Last week, I wrote about why job hunting advice doesn’t really work unless you accept the realities of the process. Whether you’re just starting out or have 20 years of work under your belt, the dynamics may not be fair but they’re here, and they’re real, and if you want to find a job you have to deal with them. It’s not easy, but it’s like gravity: When you jump off a cliff, you fall. Blaming the laws of nature on the way down doesn’t help.
One of the things no one likes to hear is that you’re hired based on a lot of things besides your technical skill or your experience. Deciding who to bring on board is a subjective decision, at best an educated guess. At the end of the day the manager has to feel good about how you’ll fit in, deal with management and collaborate with other departments. By the time he’s thinking about who to hire, he knows how well you code. You can be the best coder in the world, but if you’re a creep you’re not going to get the job.
This is why the most important tactic of your job search is networking. Even if you’re responding to a posting somewhere — like, say, Dice — you’ve got a better shot of getting in the door if you know someone at the company. Of course, you may not. But the more people who know you, the more chances are you can find one. It’s important because it begins to build the human dynamic between you and the hiring manager.
A lot of technical people don’t like to network. You’re busy, you say. You work on problems that require exceptional focus to solve. It’s more important to fix those than to go out and meet people.
Too bad. If you’re serious about finding a job, you don’t have a choice.
I’ve written a lot about networking because I’m always flabbergasted by how many people say they can’t or won’t reach out to others. Yes, it’s hard to call up people you don’t know, even when you’ve been referred by a friend of colleague. My way of easing the process is to ask someone out for coffee or breakfast or lunch. That way, I offer them something for their time , and it sets up a more relaxed situation than we’d have sitting in a conference room. If you don’t like that approach, go to professional networking get-togethers or meetups, even if they’re not about jobs. Delving into some tech topic or another gives you the chance to meet people without the pressure of having to talk about yourself.
If, for some reason, you can’t go to these things you still have an option: The telephone. Remember this: People like to talk about themselves. Sure, you’ll call some who’ll be curt or downright rude. Indeed, most of the people you call will say no. But the sixth person, or the 10th, will say yes.
Now you’re thinking, once they pick up the phone what do I say? If you’re calling cold, ask for an informational interview. Tell them you want to learn more about the sector, how their company works, the dynamics of the local job market. If a colleague suggested the call, begin with something like, “Tom thought it would be good for us to know each other,” then ask for the discussion. Even if you can’t get a face-to-face you’ll probably get a phone conversation out of it — and the opening to stay in touch with the occasional e-mail or follow up call.
Just remember: Networking’s not a short-term thing. It’s not going to get you a job directly, and someone you just met is probably not going to introduce you to her friend the hiring manager. That first call you make may not pay off for years. But there’s truth to the old cliché, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”