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Published: Tuesday, 5/2/2006

ALL THE RIGHT FRIENDS

BY MARY K. FONS CTW FEATURES

Like it or not, the old saying, It s not what you know,but whom is here to stay.

Now, more than ever, networking plays a huge part in a person s career path. Long gone are the days where a person spent a lifetime at the same job or with the same company. These days, a dynamic career path is all but expected,and many opportunities that people explore come from the connections they ve made along the way.

So what makes networking work?

Kim Schachinger,V.P. marketing director for Qualigence, a recruitment research and professional search firm based in Michigan, defines networking as simply creating business relationships with other professionals where either business or personal opportunities could result. Schachinger says networking is essential because, Professionals learn from each other. They may learn new business opportunities, learn ways that other have succeeded in their careers and gain new contacts that may identify and inform about new opportunities in the future.

Networking is present in most every industry, and can be as simple as going out to lunch or as involved as attending special networking functions. However it s done, it s proven to be beneficial and can be a lot of fun,as long as your attitude is positive.

Too many people see networking as what can I get from these people, when really it should be, how can we work together and help each other out, says Lacy Coil, who works for a non-profit organization that creates outreach programs for Chicago s public schools. I love what I do and I feel strongly about doing it. That s usually something I share with my colleagues and coworkers, so attending functions or having an extra business lunch is as much fun as it is business.

But what if you don t like what you do and the thought of networking sounds like a waste of time? Or maybe you re scared you ll do it wrong and end up rejected.

Michael Salmon of Salmon & Associates, one of the nation s leading networking methodology training firms, is author of Super Networking (Career Press, 2003), a book that details how anyone can become a great networker. Salmon teaches a specific method called SuperNetworking, which involves creating your own SuperNetwork by building on existing contacts and tips on how to practice being the kind of person who creates their own opportunities. He believes that anyone can become a master networker, and everyone should, especially those looking for employment.

According to parallel studies by the U.S. Department of Labor and Harvard University, the job market is broken down into two categories; the formal, or published, job market includes only 25 percent of available jobs, says Salmon. The informal market is where the remaining 75 percent of jobs are hidden. Both studies conclude that the best way to uncover the enormous job market is to start with people you know. Salmon points out that the person you know may not ultimately be the person who hires you,but can certainly put you into the hands of the person who might. Referrals help open doors you couldn t open on your own, he says. If you come by way of a friend or a friend of a friend, human nature is such that you will have a better chance of getting hired than a perfect stranger.

Networking isn t just for those who want to get their foot in the door, however. Networking provides opportunities at all levels.

I have met professionals at networking functions that I still maintain contact with, says Schachinger. Some have been suppliers that I have contacted to include them in the quoting process of a project I was working on. He still remembers the first individual he interviewed with out of college. A sales manager at the time,he s now president of the same company. I have benefited both personally and professionally by maintaining a business relationship with him for the past 10 years, says Schachinger.

Salmon remembers a similar experience at a workshop where a savvy networking moment created opportunities for an entire group of people. During one of the breaks I was speaking with the CEO and VP of sales. They were talking shop, specifically about their need to hire more qualified sales people. I told them about my friend Don, a successful sales person working in [their industry.] They met and he was hired one month later. Without the introduction, the company never would have known about Don as a resource and Don would never have known about this opportunity. That s the power of networking.

If you think you re rusty at networking, consider a brush up seminar or a book on the topic. While networking is usually as simple as extending your hand to someone for a handshake and an introduction, some people do need a little more help.

In Coil s case, her position was a blend of a go-getter attitude and some much-appreciated networking.

I was aware of the organization and the staff, and I had a fair amount of mutual colleagues and friends. Since being here,I ve been able to pass work along to many of my own friends and colleagues. It s great to be able to bring skilled people together and make things happen.


Mary K. Fons is a Chicago-based freelance writer and reports frequently on job-related issues.

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