Feature: Personal networking

It seems a day doesn't go by without some corporate announcement of layoffs or job eliminations, with no optimistic projections for the return of those positions for the foreseeable future.

The U.S. economy is weathering its worst employment slump in 20 years, with 816,000 people having dropped out of the labor force since summer, and business leaders are not optimistic for the next year, as we have reported and discussed in previous columns.

So what, if anything, should you be doing? The answer's clear: working to increase and improve the value of your personal networks.

In research we conducted at NFI Research, we found that almost everyone in business now knows someone who is looking for a job, and of those looking, 60 percent are unemployed. What is also significant is that 40 percent of those "looking" already have a job, which could be a future indicator of instability in the business employment market.

Executives, managers and workers are facing increasing amounts of work that needs to be accomplished within the same amount of time. When there is a layoff, those left behind often have to absorb the workload, since it is generally the "job" that is eliminated, not the "work," which still has to get done.

Some are finding they have too much to do, and as a result can't get anything done well, though they still might be measured on one specific set of requirements or tasks, while being required to perform others (for which they do not get compensated). This can drive managers and workers to explore opportunities in other companies.

As a total result, there are millions of employed and unemployed workers exploring their next position, their next company or even their next career.

And when looking for other opportunities, the best way to succeed is to use contacts and personal networking. In fact, our research shows that executives and managers say that the most important factor to the job seeker is contacts/networking, followed by positive attitude and job experience.

"It's all about networking, networking, networking," said one respondent. "Networking is the best personal marketing tool for the present age. Without it, resumes, skills, experience and abilities go unnoticed. Even if you have a job, I am finding out that small/medium sized businesses get their leads through networking, not fancy marketing collateral. A new marketing paradigm is growing."

When it comes to personal networking, the majority say the most valuable personal connections are a combination of those inside and outside the organization, with those on the outside being more beneficial. Said one respondent: "Connections within my organization are of no value."

In addition to making new connections, it might be time to consider how you might be using the connections you already have.

Keep in mind that the old saying that "you meet the same people on the way up as on the way down" is good counsel in today's work market. With so much downsizing, corporate restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, it is prudent to treat people who work under you as you might those above you.

One way to look at how you treat people is to ask yourself the following 10 questions about each person you interact with in your business dealings:

  • If their letter of recommendation determined whether I got my next job, would I get it?

  • If it were their decision to hire me, would I get the job?

  • What kind of a reference would they be for me?

  • Would they describe me as being considerate?

  • Would they say I always have a positive attitude?

  • Would they say I was loyal to the company?

  • Do they perceive me as totally honest and ethical?

  • Would they be proud to introduce me to their family?

  • Would they say I was a good manager or leader?

  • Would they say they'd want to work for me again?

One caution about networking: It should provide value not only to you, but also to the person with whom you are networking. "There is something unpleasant about people who conspicuously network in a calculated and noticeable manner," said one survey respondent. "Networking needs to be mutually beneficial and based on real respect and trust."

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