Putting your best foot forward

Sunday, November 28, 2010; 9:00 AM

Uncover the Hidden Job Market by Networking

In today's job market, hundreds of people often apply for a single position. It is overwhelming for job seekers--and for employers. How can you distinguish yourself from the masses? "Network into companies in advance of the job," Laura Labovich, owner of Aspire! Empower! Career Strategy Group in Bethesda, Md., advised.

Labovich recommended the personal, growth-oriented method of networking espoused by the Five O'Clock Club, the national career coaching and outplacement organization through which she became a guild-certified career coach. "Identify target companies in your geographic area that wow you," she suggested. "Shift the focus to which companies best fit your talents, skills and geographic preference. Then, aim to get meetings rather than interviews."

The goal is to present yourself as an expert in a specific job function and industry. To do that, Labovich suggested refining your job search to a specific industry, researching employers in your geographic area and networking into those companies. Labovich used the example of someone looking for a job as a marketing manager. She suggested further defining the job search to a specific industry, such as the consumer goods industry, then identifying about 40 consumer goods companies in the area.

Once you have created that list of employers, the networking begins. Show your list to friends, family, colleagues, former colleagues, professional contacts and anyone else who might be helpful. Explain that these are the companies you have identified that would be a great fit for you. Ask them to look over the list and see if they know anybody at those companies. If they know someone, ask for an introduction. "You want to become an insider," Labovich said.

Typically, the people you know will offer to show your resume to their contact. According to Labovich, it is better to get an introduction than to offer up your resume. "When you hand a resume to someone, you're losing your power because the person who receives it probably won't do anything with it," she warned. "Pull in the reins and take power. It's the goal of the job seeker to try to run the show." If someone strongly prefers to provide your resume rather than providing an introduction, ask for the email address and phone number of their contact so that you can follow up yourself.

Okay, so now you have gotten an introduction to someone on your target job list. What do you do with it? Contact the person and ask for a chance to chat with them for 10 minutes to gain an understanding of what they do. This is not a job interview. It is an opportunity to learn and create a meaningful connection.

At an informational interview, nobody is comparing you to a job description or to other candidates. The pressure is off. You can ask about the trends in their industry, current challenges, the job culture, what they do on a day-by-day basis and other things that interest you about that company and that interview.

Try to make the relationship reciprocal. At the end of the interview, ask if there is anything you can do for your interviewer. Offer introductions to your contacts, professional or otherwise. Then, ask if they can suggest anyone else you would benefit from meeting. Make sure to follow up with a quick thank you after each informational interview. If you have offered to provide any information or introductions, follow through promptly.

Become knowledgeable about your companies. Set up Google Alerts for each of them to be notified when they are in the news and see who is being quoted in articles. Set up a tickler file for the people who are being quoted and try to connect with them through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Make sure to be honest and professional on social networking sites. Become active in your professional and industry associations.

Successful networking takes time and a sincere desire to learn and develop relations. It is an opportunity to define where you want to be and learn how to position yourself to get there. By the time a good job becomes available in a company you targeted, you will be ready for it. You are knowledgeable about the company and the industry--and you are an insider.

This special advertising section was written by Laura K. Nickle and Suzanne Gunther of Communi-k, Inc., in conjunction with The Washington Post Special Sections Department. The production of this supplement did not involve The Washington Post news or editorial staff.

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