"Networking" has become quite the buzzword lately. There are stats out there that say that 60+% of all jobs are obtained through networking. Everyone is trying to expand their Rolodex in order to find that one person who knows that one other person who knows of that perfect job opening....to me it can sound like a bit of a crap shoot. I have never gotten a job through networking, although it has helped me get an interview. I've only once hired someone I knew outside of a work context and that was for an internship several years ago.
Here's my theory on networking - if you know HOW to use your network and can follow up an initial introduction with a solid resume and interview, than you may land a great job through it. Otherwise it's just people exchanging business cards and engaging in some awkward mingling.
I don't think having a BIG network is all that important. You can have 1,000 Facebook friends and still be out of a job. I would rather have a couple "connectors" (to use Malcolm Gladwell's phrase from the book "The Tipping Point") who I can rely on. I'll give you an example - my best "connector" is my mother-in-law. She's lived in the same community for practically her whole life and seems to know just about everyone. Not only is she universally liked and consistently charming, but she is not afraid to make introductions. In fact, she thrives on them. I have never seen someone work a room like this woman. I'm a bit skeptical of the purpose of chambers of commerce but she once brought me to a local chamber meeting and I couldn't believe what I experienced. She already had at least 5 people she had planned to introduce me to and had already let some of them know I would be attending. She stayed by my side the entire night and took me to each person saying "This is so and so, he might be a good contact for photography for your company, let me introduce you." She had a purpose for each introduction and expertly orchestrated each meeting. I felt like I could have just handed her a stack of my business cards and she could have represented me all by herself. You see, you don't need a ton of casual acquaintances you have to maintain minimal but consistent contact with throughout the year. Plus, who has time for that anyway? You just need one Jeanne Schwass. The one interview I've had because of networking? Yup, it was through her.
Now, the second step to successful networking is that you have to have a purpose and know how to use your network. That means, telling the right people what you need and how they can help. Otherwise networking becomes a very vague and fuzzy activity. When we were first planning to move to this area, I emailed my mother-in-law my resume and told her what kind of job I wanted. And she was off! She told friends from church, she sent emails to our family and her work contacts, and she updated me on her progress. You see, connectors are thrilled to help and love the joy of sharing the gift of their network with others.
NOTE: When you are trying to obtain a job through utilizing your network, it's all the more important that you handle yourself professionally and respectfully. Because your behavior reflects on your network and you may have some personal connections to the hiring manager, it's critical that the situation with the utmost care. Send thank you notes for interviews, be honest about your interest in the position, and always follow-up in a timely manner. You don't want to damage your reputation through your conduct regarding job interview. And ALWAYS thank your connector and praise her in your blog! :)