Looking for a job? Even if you aren't, it's important to remember that the era of lifetime employment at a single company is over. Sooner or later, most of us are going to find ourselves looking for a new employer. Bearing that in mind, you need to make sure that your next job is a step up, not a stopgap, and one of the best ways to do this is by networking with others in your industry and related fields, even while you're happily employed.
Career-related professional organizations, such as the IEEE, are an ideal way to build networks. Attending local chapter events, or better still, getting involved with running a society, will make it more likely that when you send your job application to a business, you won't be a complete unknown.
"Engineers are mostly introverts, but eventually they're going to have to get their faces out of the computer," says Mark Mehler, coprincipal of CareerXroads, a recruiting technology consulting firm in Kendall Park, N.J. "Technology is not what's going to get you a job. You still have to call up and meet the contacts you make.
"The Internet and online social networks are great tools for gathering names and information" that can stand you in good stead, Mehler advises. He is referring to the latest trend in online job hunting and hiring: tapping social and professional networking sites. These sites typically allow you to post a profile, listing information about yourself as well as services and skills you have to offer. What's more, reciprocal connections can be made between the profiles of different users, allowing for friend-of-a-friend style introductions. This is known as a "six degrees of separation" model, named for the theory that states that every human being is connected by a chain of at most six people. The sites also enable people to forge long-term business relationships around outside interests and skill sets.
On these sites, job hunters gain access to top executives--as opposed to the human resource reps often listed as want-ad contacts--and personal relationships can lead to unadvertised openings. On the other side of the coin, recruiters trolling the Web site can seek out candidates instead of waiting for them to apply. Beyond jobs, these sites also allow users to secure venture capital and consulting work, advertise their services, research company culture, track the competition, and get advice.
"The idea is to start befriending recruiters and developing relationships with influential people well before you need them," says Krista Bradford, a two-year IEEE member who runs Bradford Executive Research LLC, a technology-focused recruitment and research firm in Westport, Conn.
As with any technology, there are ways to get the most out of your online networking. Following are a few tips:
Plan ahead. As noted above, networking sites are most effective before you need a job. "This is something you should be doing during the course of your career--especially if you don't normally get these types of [social] interactions," says Rob Leathern, director of marketing for LinkedIn, a networking site based in Palo Alto, Calif., that allows users to search for job listings offered by other site members. "The biggest mistake is leaving it to [only the times] when there are layoffs." When, earlier this year, enterprise application developer PeopleSoft Inc. merged with database maker Oracle Corp., in Redwood Shores, Calif., there was massive downsizing and "4000 of [PeopleSoft's] employees joined [LinkedIn] in 45 days," says Leathern.
It also may require testing several sites before finding the one that best suits your needs and interests. A site is "only worth as much as the cooperation of its participants," notes Bob Rosenbaum, director of Small Advantage, a nanotechnology marketing consultancy in Tel Aviv, Israel. "On the one hand, the Internet enables equal access to influential people who can really help," he says. But the equality of access "can actually be a drawback to finding quality connections. It's like online dating. People can say whatever they want about themselves."
Be selective. Not everyone listed on a person's connections list is necessarily someone they would endorse, and often people are added on a quid pro quo basis. Employers should note whom people are connected to in their networks and the seemingly ubiquitous names. "If someone is connected with real heavyweights or accomplished technologists, it gives me a sense they're running in the right crowd," says recruiter Bradford. "Other names I see attached to everybody, and I wonder how discriminating they are."
"Be careful who you let into your network," warns CareerXroads' Mehler. "Remember people want to reach your friends as much as you want to reach theirs." Users should also note site rules before joining, to see whether the site owners can claim access to your contacts for their own use and if they police their networks.
Be professional. Just as these networking sites can help applicants research a company, so can they help a company research you. "I won't always tell people I have a position open, because [then] they're more likely to let their hair down and show more of their true selves," says Keisha Richmond, president of Richmond Technology Solutions Inc., Deer Park, N.Y., an IT consulting company. She remembers "a lady who was always nasty to people whenever someone posted a differing opinion in an online discussion group. The owner of the discussion board finally told her not to post any more messages. Before this, I thought this might be someone I'd want to work with."
And despite privacy controls offered by some sites that limit what profile information is publicly readable, information can leak out. What makes someone a hoot at a party may not be perceived as the best endorsement of his or her professional skills--like the guy who lost a job when one employer noticed his full-body tattoos plastered on Tribe.net, a social and community networking site. "Be aware that if it's searchable in Google, it's fair game," says Bradford.
Be specific. Be as detailed as you can in the kind of contacts and job information you're seeking. When responding to job openings on a networking site, don't send generic information and leave it to the recruiter to figure out how you can work with a company. You've taken the trouble to seek someone out. They should at least know why you're there.
AlwaysOn-Network.com This site offers comments on tech industry investors and executives. It is especially good for jobs at venture-funded tech start-ups.
LinkedIn.com This is the preferred network for many professionals. It offers links and carries listings from DirectEmployers.com, a job database provided by a large consortium of U.S. corporations.
TheTeng.org The Technology Executives Networking Group is a networking and resources site for senior-level IT officers of start-ups, global Fortune 100 companies, nonprofits, and government agencies. It has chapters in 15 cities.
Careers.ieee.org Finally, don't forget the IEEE Job Site. Anybody can search its database of global job listings, read career-related articles, and see background information about top employers. IEEE members can also create profiles and get automatic notifications when matching jobs are posted by employers.
About the Author
Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles (