Are You Networked? Hunting for a Job in Today's Tough Economy Means You'd Better Get out There and Start Making Contacts

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID BAUERLEIN

After losing her job in a corporate restructuring, Andrea Smit went to work building a network of contacts for her job search.

She joined the WorkSource Professional Network, sponsored by WorkSource, an agency that assists job-seekers.

She already belonged to the Jacksonville chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. She kicked it up a notch by earning a "Volunteers of the Month" award for donating time to the chapter.

She joined LinkedIn, the online site that counts 30 million professionals worldwide in its membership.

Smit, 48, of Ponte Vedra Beach, said she regrets she didn't have a full-fledged network in place before she started her job hunt in January. In today's hyper-competitive market, she was playing catch-up. But she said she's optimistic her networking is delivering momentum to her search for a job in human resource management.

"You don't know how much you need networking until you need it," Smit said.

Career counselors say that advice is crucial in today's economy.

A report issued by the Economic Policy Institute says there were 3.3 job-hunters vying for each opening in October. Blasting out resumes via the Internet is part of looking for a job. But face-to-face contact through networking is far and away the best path to success, said Marilyn Feldstein, owner of Career Choices Unlimited in Jacksonville.

"The reality is that the No. 1 recruiting tool that companies use is employee referrals," she said.

WorkSource spokeswoman Candace Moody said whether people realize it or not, networking also plays a role in keeping their jobs. By volunteering for company-sponsored programs that take them outside their corner of the office, they will gain positive "buzz" that can help keep their name from ending up on a layoff list.

"Those kinds of informal conversations are going on all the time, and your reputation precedes you," she said. "People are talking about you behind your back."

In the same vein, Moody said successful networking requires more than just showing up at organizations. To really stand out, Moody said job-seekers should "volunteer with a purpose" by doing projects that show off their talents.

Jacksonville resident Tanya Coomes said she has been able to advance in her career by taking an active role with the local chapter of the American Society for Training and Development.

"My personal philosophy was that I could attend a luncheon and hear a speech, but other than small talk and handshakes, you don't really get to know people very well," she said.

By volunteering on committees, she was able to display her skills and her work ethic, she said. That paid off when other members of the local chapter offered her an executive position with Alcorn, Ward & Partners, a Jacksonville company that does training programs.

She said one of the best ways to volunteer is to work the registration table where people sign in before meetings. Knowing who is at the meeting makes it easier to seek them out for conversation.

Coomes also has been on the other side of the networking equation by giving career advice to others. She said the biggest turnoff is being asked by someone who just shows up at meetings to work the room for job leads.

"People want to help people they like, so really, it's about relationship-building," she said.

Professional organizations aren't the only place to develop networks.

In a sign of the times, the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce has been promoting its discounted membership price of $100 a year for professionals seeking employment. …