Networking vs. Direct Contact: Strength in Numbers?

I have talked before about the strength-in-numbers concept. Today I want to look at a different aspect of that concept and its impact on your career advancement. What got me started on this was reading a book titled For Executives Only: Applying Business Techniques to Your Job Search by Bill Belknap and Helene Seiler, executive coaches with The Five O’Clock Club. Although published in 2007, the book contains a wealth of information that is just as relevant and potentially valuable in 2012 as it was then. In particular, I’m focusing on the section about networking and direct contact as job search tools, including the differences between them.

Green-Light, Yellow-Light and Red-Light Modes

The book presents three scenarios for networking, color-coded in terms of urgency. As you might expect, the green-light mode applies when your employment situation is satisfactory, while at the other extreme, you know you need to move out quickly. The authors estimate that in the former situation, you should spend 5-6 hours per month on your networking campaign. In the yellow-light situation, that amount climbs to 5 or 6 hours per week. They don’t give a number for red-light circumstances, but I’d be willing to bet it’s something like “whatever it takes”! If you’re in that situation, you’re either on your way out of your job involuntarily or you strongly suspect the business itself is on its way out.

Difference between Networking and Direct Contact

According to the book’s authors, networking and direct contact are both valid pieces of the job search puzzle, and they define these terms as follows:

  • Networking: “Contacting people you know or using someone’s name to connect with someone else. It is not just a technique, but a process…a process of building long-lasting relationships.”
  • Direct Contact: “A very powerful tool frequently overlooked and underutilized. It is when you write or call someone you do not know….In the most recent Five O’Clock Club survey we found executives got 30% of their interviews through direct contact.”

Where Strength in Numbers Comes In

If you only have–or think you only have–a handful of people in your network, contacting those few is unlikely to generate much momentum in your job search. Even broadening your scope to include a bit of direct-contact activity probably won’t expand your network by much. While a job search might not be completely a numbers game, it’s likely that both contact quantity and quality are important. Consequently, you might need to consider your network-building options creatively and pursue them with determination.

The book provides some valuable job search tips centered on building a strong network, including eight “Golden Rules of Networking”:

  1. Be patient….your networking calls are strategic not tactical unless you are in Red-Light mode.
  2. The key to building a strong long-term network is your ability to develop relationships.
  3. Maintain contact, at least quarterly, with everyone who has contributed to your learning and growth over the years.
  4. Ask for advice and support, as opposed to favors.
  5. Focus on those who have spontaneously given to you.
  6. Try to always bring a “gift” to the table….
  7. Graciously let go of any networking relationship where you are the only one giving.
  8. Become a mentor for at least two people you believe have potential.

Remember, those network numbers won’t build themselves. Your energy, persistence and critical-thinking skills can and will make a big difference. The key is to apply both networking and direct-contact approaches in ways appropriate to your specific job and career circumstances.

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