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In these straightened times a key survival skill appears to be how to find another job. Even if you are fortunate enough to already be in employment there is good evidence that the ability to locate alternative employment assists in general job satisfaction and security.


The best lever in negotiating a pay rise, or otherwise assisting your boss in valuing you properly, is to be constantly courting and juggling other job offers.


Although there is already a lot of psychological research which finds, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the harder you look for work the more likely you are to be successful, there is relatively little scientific research on which aspect of job searching proves most effective.


In this context it’s interesting to note that many pop psychology books on the job market have begun to emphasise the importance of networking. A couple of famous ones are entitled ‘Network your way to your next job: Fast’ and ‘Dynamite Networking for Dynamite Jobs’.


Networking is about using contacts you already have, or developing new ones, and approaching these people to help in your job search. Research in the area has suggested that networking may predict job search success between 30-90%, which is a huge range meaning that just how important networking is in finding work remains very controversial in the vocational research literature.


Networking has always, particularly in Britain compared to the USA, ‘smelt’ slightly fishy. It seems to be about going around the backs of others and landing a job ‘behind the scenes’, in contrast to the more straightforward and fair fight procedures of traditional job advertisements answering followed by interviewing.


In point of fact in the real world even if you are answering a job advert and going to an interview, the sobering reality is there is often an ‘inside’ candidate. That person became the informally favoured competitor undoubtedly partly through networking.


So networking appears on the surface a vital skill and technique to deploy when it comes to finding work. Yet it’s often neglected. Perhaps partly because it’s not clear how to network – what are the rules and how do you know if you are doing it well?


To this end there is an important study all job seekers should be aware of by

Connie Wanberg from the University of Minnesota, Ruth Kanfer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Joseph Banas at Washington University, in a research paper entitled ‘Predictors and outcomes of Networking intensity amongst unemployed job-seekers’. This vital study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and involves one of the very few scientific in-depth studies of networking when it comes to job searching.


Wanberg and colleagues point out that there may be many key psychological reasons people may be reluctant to deploy networking effectively. One central problem is that this involves being socially assertive. You have to open yourself up to vulnerability by letting others know you are looking for work and this produces unease in many. If you feel ashamed about being out of work, it’s going to be tough to confront this by letting others know you need a job.


As result it’s natural to feel inhibited about letting the world know you need a job and this will get in the way of most effective networking.


Another common failure amongst job seekers using networking is to not let the person you are networking with know enough about your skills and interests again perhaps because of a natural reserve about singing your own praises.


Networkers also fall down by not following up on the contact – you may need to go back and remind the person a little while later that you are still in the job market. After the first contact that person who seemed so interested on the night, may have forgotten about you.


Another common failure appears to be that job seekers don’t use their social contacts vigorously enough. Apparently you need to make a list of just about everyone you know, even peripherally, and consider approaching them all to let them know you are in the job market.


Going through a diary and recalling everyone you ever met anywhere you were out and about is a useful way of prompting the memory for contacts.


Indeed network theory predicts that it’s often the people you know least well who might be most productive in coming up with job opportunities. This is because the people you know best probably circulate in the same circles as you and therefore know as much as you do already about available work.


It’s from network theory that the famous ‘six degrees of separation’ idea comes from. This is a theory that became popular in social psychology a few years ago. It’s assumption is that we are all, no matter where we live, only six people away from everyone else. In other words everyone knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who knows you (only with a few more people in that network).


If it’s true, though there is some debate if it really is the case that its just six people that separates everyone on the planet from everyone else, then it follows that whoever knows about possible jobs in your area, is only a few people on a network away from you.


Networking rests partly on the idea that finding out about a job isn’t just about using the usual channels where jobs are advertised. Even if all job adverts in your sector are placed in one location, its possible that before these jobs come up officially others in the organisation ‘know’ about them. It may be for example possible to do the ‘locum’ or signal your interest and suitability before the rest of the field trample the door down of human resources once the advert goes public. 


Networking is about the idea that even in this age of the impersonal quasi-judicial procedure and technology administering the job application process, that the human element remains vital. Its who you know that still matters and this dimension can never be removed.


Wanberg and colleagues suggest that while networking may have its detractors, there is good research evidence that those who secure a job through networking are in fact more likely to stay in it for longer, perform better and have superiorly positive attitudes to their work. This could be because these job applicants are getting a better sense of what the prospective job is really like via networking, compared with those who just rely on the other more formal processes.


Wanberg and colleagues contend that a useful framework for thinking about job searching via networking is to consider networking intensity – how much you do it and also networking comfort – how at ease you are with the process.


A key predictor from their research on both these two factors was your personality and in particular how extravert you are. This has sobering implications for the less outgoing amongst the rest of us. Yet the latest thinking in psychology is that we can all learn to improve our social skills.


If you are uneasy about chatting with people, ostensibly in order to let them know you need a job and you are wondering how they may be of help in this matter, then not only might you be reluctant to do it, but you may also not do it very well because of your unease.


If on top of all of this it’s the people you know least well, or are most unfamiliar with, who hold the key for most networking success over location a previously unknown job, then these are the very encounters which the less extravert are going to find most stressful to deal with.


This is all vital psychology as Wanberg and colleagues did find in their research that networking was related to several aspects of job hunting success. In their follow up of people who had eventually found work, almost 40% directly attributed their eventual success to networking.


However Wanberg and colleagues caution that it’s possible to overemphasise the importance of networking and the reality is that its just one of many job search tools that needs to be deployed in order to attain work. They also point out that it’s possible as well to be too pushy and bold when networking and this can put people off. How to measure effective networking has proved difficult because its an art which is difficult to capture and teach.


Networking is about getting out there and charming yourself into a job and it’s difficult to teach charm. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn.


At least Wanberg and colleagues’ research should reassure all of us to keep going despite the discomfort and stress of networking, as it demonstrates that its worthwhile sticking at.


One tip is when chatting to others – ask them how they got their job – this will remind them of the importance of networking in their careers and perhaps move them to being more sympathetic to your predicament. They may feel an obligation to repay the debt they owe to others who helped them find work, by helping you.

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