Of all the tools job candidates use to position themselves as the best individual for a specific job, none is more effective than a well-developed professional network. Typical professional networks include individuals with whom we have crossed paths throughout our careers. While such a network is an important element in your own job search, an even more effective network would be within the company you wish to join.
Developing and using effective relationships within targeted companies allows focused marketing of your talents to a specific audience. Networking your way to the interior of a company is a career investment requiring time, planning, and effort—but the payoff can be significant.
Typical networking offers an "outside-in" approach to the target companies. The network grows organically over time and includes contacts within a variety of companies. But at any point, specific companies are more desirable than others for career advancement.
The list of desired future employers is likely succinct, but our professional networks are not. It is common to lack network contacts within desirable target companies. Without internal contacts, you must work your way in from the outside of the target companies via conventional channels.
A better approach is creating a network of contacts within target companies to become known from the inside-out. If done well, an inside-out network is a more efficient, focused, and effective asset in your job search. Developing an inside-out network requires validating job prospects, creating a refined list of people in the company with whom you can network, and quickly establishing the mutual benefits of a relationship.
Before investing significant time developing a network inside a target company, validate your prospects for obtaining a job and determine if the company is right for you. Developing a sense of how a company may value your skills and background involves gaining a clear understanding of the company's products, structure, operations, markets, and hiring practices.
Focus your research on articles, press releases, and other industry-specific resources particular to your career background. Look for any information that helps you gain a clearer sense of your value to the target company. State employment agencies can frequently provide current and previous job listings for local operations. Job boards frequently offer access to archived job announcements. The target company's Website can provide information about hiring activity and career fit.
Your next step in developing an inside-out network is developing and refining a targeted list of employee contacts. Two basic tools can help you develop and refine this list efficiently: the Internet and telephone.
The Internet is a rich source of employee names, though finding them can be challenging. Most company Websites offer little in terms of names and related titles. However, trade publications, company press releases, and other articles frequently provide the names and titles of quoted employees. Speakers at trade events and technical symposia are published on event Websites.
Dust off your Web research skills to build a list of full names, titles, and any detail you can easily find about people within the target company that may prove helpful. Prioritize the list based on your best guess as to how helpful the person might be in getting you closer to the job you seek. Your list of names will likely include some that are out of date, but the company's phone system can help you validate your list. Try dialing a central phone number after hours. Most phone systems offer a "look-up-by-name" feature. If the system lacks this directory look-up functionality, try the switchboard during business hours. But focus only on those names at the top of your priority list if you are asking the switchboard for help. Once you have a narrowed and prioritized list, it's time to initiate contact and begin networking.
Cultivating viable relationships within your target companies is largely dependent on how quickly and consistently you demonstrate your value as a future high-performing employee. It is equally important to focus this message on those who will be motivated to market you as a potential candidate. An inside-out network should include managers, human resources (HR) professionals, and select individual employees.
Developing relationships with managers responsible for hiring people in your desired position is ideal. Focusing on both managers of groups you would like to join and those related to them increases the total number of potential manager contacts and therefore your leverage with the most important professional network contacts in a company.
There are two specific groups within HR you should get to know: generalists and staffing. HR generalists exist within every large business and touch every part of the organization they support. They are keenly aware of hiring activity and in some organizations are responsible for it. Larger companies have centralized staffing organizations. Recruiters within staffing provide a variety of hiring-related services, including sourcing candidates for jobs. Expect that the willingness of both generalists and staff recruiters will be predicated on you demonstrating your high potential value as an employee. Be prepared to sell these busy professionals on your merits in 10 minutes or less.
Finally, individual employees should be included in your inside-out professional network. Ideally, you would establish contacts within or proximate to teams that you'd like to join and gain indirect access to the team managers as a result. A referral bonus, if the company has one, offers additional motivation for employees to begin a relationship with you, regardless of where they sit in the company.
Building a professional network within a company is no small undertaking. It will take a concerted effort and a lot of time. Such a network is not built quickly and should be viewed as a part of your larger incremental career development plan.
Mark Johnson is a senior recruiter and human resources consultant for Tektronix Inc. (Beaverton, OR). He can be reached via the company's Website, www.tektronix.com.