January 24, 2012
Networking gets you a shot, not the job
Growing up in Alaska, I distinctly remember a summer in high school when I was looking for the chance to earn some extra money.
At that time, a friend of the family said to me, "I know of a construction job that pays pretty well, if you're interested. Let me be clear, though. I can get you an interview, but I can't actually get you the job. That's up to you."
Luckily, with this person's help landing the interview, I was able to convince the foreman to bring me on the team to dig ditches and such. That's the good news. The bad news is that when the communal outhouse later blew over in a storm, and the contents spilled all over the street, I just happened to be the low man on the totem pole who was given the pleasure of cleaning it up!
But I digress. The point is that I was reminded of this story recently when a client called and asked if I happened to have any connections at a well-known company in downtown Seattle. He said he'd already had a preliminary interview with the organization, was very interested in the job, and was hoping I knew somebody at the company who could put in an additional good word for him.
My response? I told him that while I'd love to help, it was too late. Or more appropriately, it was now irrelevant.
Once you've landed an interview, companies really aren't interested in further "hearsay" about you. It's now up to YOU to sell yourself, not your entourage. Having additional people contact the employer, singing your praises, is usually an unwanted distraction at this stage; nothing they say is likely going to influence the hiring manager's decision all that much. The employer is going to be far more likely to trust his or her own observations about how you come across -- and whether or not you seem qualified to do the job at hand.
This may be a fine point, I realize, but it's an important one. If you're looking for a job, you're going to be spending the majority of your time, effort and resources trying to conquer the toughest step of the process -- landing an interview. You'll likely send out dozens or hundreds of résumés. You'll spread the word to everybody in your network that you're available. And if you get the guts, you might even contact certain companies directly to pitch yourself and let them know you're available for work.
Once these efforts pay off, however, and you've wrangled a conversation with a hiring manager, the game changes. Now it's your time to shine. You're face-to-face with the person who can make or break your employment destiny. No matter how much "circumstantial evidence" you supply from third-party sources, the bulk of the manager's decision is going to be based on YOUR actions -- and how you come across, in the flesh.
When you reach this stage of the game, let go of the networking crutch. Focus instead on stepping up to the plate and proving that no other candidate is as willing or capable of doing the job in question.
How to go about this? Your first task is to gain a clear understanding of the employer's needs by listening carefully, asking insightful questions and repeating key concepts across the table for corroboration. Then, once you have a handle on the primary "pain points" the manager is seeking to get relieved, it's time to demonstrate, convincingly, that you're able to relieve this pain.
Confidently cite your relevant credentials and offer specific examples of how you've solved similar problems in the past. Conclude by saying something along the lines of, "Ms. Jones, if I understand correctly that you're looking for somebody who can come in and get X, Y and Z done with a minimum of time and hassle, I'm your candidate. I'd love the chance to come in, work for you and take these issues off your plate."
Ultimately, that's what every hiring manager wants to hear.
As valuable as networking can be in helping you snag an interview, remember that it becomes something of an afterthought once you've actually landed a conversation with the powers-that-be at an organization. At that point, it's time to forget about the people outside the room. Concentrate instead on the all-important people sitting across the desk -- and wow them!
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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