The Best Kept Secret in Job Hunting

Service networking: a group of professionals helping each other.

Think back to your last job search. What did you do first? Looked for listings online or in the newspaper? Responding to posted jobs is easily the most common job-search strategy, but is it effective? Not very. According to Richard Bolles, bestselling author of What Color is Your Parachute?, it pays off about 1% of the time.

Ironically, job seekers rarely use the most effective method—one that works 86% of the time. It’s what Bolles calls the creative approach to job hunting: do research about yourself, your skills, and organizations in your field, then use personal contacts to find the people within organizations who have the power to hire you.

Intro to Service Networking

Andrew Cusick, service networking expert
Andrew Cusick

That sounds great in theory, but how does it work in real life? How do you make valuable personal connections in the first place? Through “service networking.”

I first heard about service networking (connecting by serving) last summer from Andy Cusick, who is now a career development officer with the UW-Madison Office of Postdoctoral Studies. When I met Andy, he was looking for a position at UW-Madison after relocating.

Network Like You Mean it

Andy began his search by looking for LinkedIn contacts who might have connections at UW. He contacted a former classmate, and she gave him a list of people, which included me. He reached out, suggested meeting for coffee, then offered to speak at a job search group I organize.

April McHugh is a career and educational counselor for the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
April McHugh

Andy connected with other campus staff, offering to volunteer his time and expertise in career development. He later asked the people he helped to be references, which gave him a significant leg up in the interviewing process.

“Service Networking grew from the career development philosophy of ‘planned happenstance,’ the idea that one can intentionally position oneself in situations where good career outcomes are more likely to happen,” Andy says. “By offering to help someone I respect, I intentionally put myself in a place where something good might happen to me.”

How to Make it Work for You

If you want to make service networking work for you, try out these tips for success:

  • Reach out to people in your network to offer information, potential contacts or to volunteer your time. Friends and acquaintances can help connect you to others outside of your personal network.
  • Service networking is an opportunity to make a connection without the discomfort of traditional networking events. It’s not about handing out numerous business cards at a cocktail hour. You are building meaningful connections by assisting someone in a genuine and sincere way.
  • When you reach out to a potential connection, do so without the expectation of something in return. “Most people don’t find networking a natural thing to do,” Andy says. “What people really universally want is a connection. The trick is to help without an expectation of a particular outcome other than learning and knowing you will create karma that will eventually come back to help both of you.”

Connecting to others can be a daunting prospect, but when you see networking as relationship building through service, it becomes meaningful to all involved.

April McHugh is a career and educational counselor for the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. McHugh helps adults with career transitions and continuing education through individual sessions and workshops. Contact her at amchugh@dcs.wisc.edu.

This piece originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on June 14, 2015.

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