Generally, senior executives are very accomplished at their day-to-day activities within their respective industries. However, most are not skilled in what is often the hardest job they’ve ever had – finding a job. Many of these men and women have not had to look for a new position in 10, 15, or even 20 years. The situation is compounded by the fact that our cyclical economy now changes radically every few years, placing once-secure executives in the position of having “the bottom drop from underneath them” at a time when they are ill-prepared to “roll with the punches.” A senior executive may be highly-qualified for a number of desirable positions, but the fact is that s/he simply just doesn’t know how to find them.
While some professionals are naturally outgoing and communicative of their skills and talents, many others are not. Regardless of ability, very few actually look forward to carrying out the universal mandate for the senior executive job seeker: Network!
Most executives get jobs by networking. At senior levels (over $90K), more than 80% of successful transitions occur via networking. Job boards, newspapers, and trade journals account for 3-4%, and recruiters fill 12-15%. Clearly, there is no debate on the efficacy of networking. However, there is great debate on how to do it.
Many see networking as a laborious and time-consuming effort to phone almost anyone they’ve ever known who might offer some semblance of help. Their message? A desperate “I need a job!” Almost without exception (after the usual gratuitous pleasantries) the response is the same – an ambiguous “Let me see what I can do and get back to you,” perhaps concluding with “let’s have lunch sometime.” With repetition, this exercise becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For the job seeker, it can result in anything from mild discouragement to deep depression.
This “rolodex approach” is not really networking; it’s a thinly-veiled plea for help. The job-seeker is really asking “Can you do the networking necessary for me to find a job?” The invariable answer, no matter how cordially phrased, is “No.” The recipients of such phone calls rarely have open jobs suitable for the caller, and in the unlikely event that they do, refrain from saying anything other than the above-stated “Let me get back to you.”
There are few activities in life that cannot be improved with a plan. Effective networking is a little more strategic than the rolodex approach. A well-developed plan includes:
• An objective — “What are the best ways to identify good Senior Project Director jobs in my field?” (Note: the objective did not say available jobs, since most jobs at senior levels are not vacant.) Good networking should not focus on the identification of vacancies, which are few, but on the job seeker’s communication of his/her value to a decision-maker. There may not be a vacancy, but there might be a problem that needs to be solved.
• A sub-objective — “Who should I contact to get this information?”
• An enabling objective — “Who do I know that can refer me to these people?”
The networking call now becomes a series of calls, all of which are far more specific and actionable by the contact. There is a much greater chance of a positive and helpful response from people when they are asked to do something within their power.
In summary, effective networking is not one big step; it is a series of strategic communications that will eventually put the job seeker in front of the right person.
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