Your job hunt traditionally starts with websites like monster.com or dice.com. However, some surveys suggest that between 70 to 80 percent of jobs are found through personal contacts and relationships. So why not spend your efforts building your relationships instead of surfing jobs sites?
I can sense some of you getting uncomfortable already. Dont worry, I’m not talking about attending ‘networking’ events where people drop business cards and fake friendship. No, I’m talking about building real relationships by treating people decently and helping them out where ever possible. Put simply, you build relationships by providing value to others.
You may be asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ Well…maybe nothing, but that is unlikely. Your act of goodwill will often be reciprocated, however I don’t recommend keeping score. It’s better to think of it as ‘karma’, and that you will eventually reap what you sow. I can’t back this up with hard data, but trust me, it works.
The simplest way of getting started is to treat people well. In IT, this alone will make you remarkable and it builds relationships instantly. People are expecting an ‘IT crowd‘ style of interaction, and are pleasantly surprised when you treat them with respect.
Meeting someone in person or talking with them on the phone is vital. Don’t hide behind email or IM, walk over to their desk. If you work as part of an international or multi-office team, make a huge effort to visit the foreign office and meet your co-workers. Meeting in person helps you get the measure of the person you are dealing with and start building a relationship. It also makes it much harder for that person to ignore you or be rude to you over email.
Another simple way to build relationships is to offer unsolicited thanks and praise. When someone goes above and beyond to help you out, say thanks. An even more powerful gesture is to send that email to the person’s manager. This costs you nothing, and means everything. You should also send an email when someone leaves the company. We pour our lifeblood into modern companies. You shouldn’t expect any thanks from your company, but it’s great to have a colleague say, ‘hey, nice work, we’ll miss you’.
You’re also likely to be of immense assistance to someone looking for a position in your company. I’ve spend numerous hours helping friends prepare for interviews at my current company. Remember that relationships are built on trust, so give your contact the warts-and-all details of your company and let them make the decision. No relationship is worth burning for the sake of a referral bonus.
From the inside out
Having contacts inside your company is great, but what if you want to move to pastures new? The good news is that many of the contacts you’ve built over the years will also have moved on to different companies. These colleagues will form the backbone of your external network and can offer significant assistance especially if they work for a company you are considering.
You can also build external contacts directly. I have found twitter and blogging to be of immense benefit and they have put me in touch with some great folk, such as Paul the co-author of this site. But in person meetups are alway better if possible. Look for your local Sysadmin, Linux, Cisco/Juniper/VMware user group and say hello. Even if you didn’t meet fellow engineers you’re still expanding your knowledge.
I have met some great contacts at peering exchanges such as INEX and Cisco Live events. I actually credit landing my current job from my attendance at Cisco Live in Cannes, France some six years ago. I made sure I had a few beers with the guys from my prospective employer. I learned a lot from them and met them all again in my interview the following week. I was relaxed in my interview and felt I had a better interview as a result.
Don’t lose track of your contacts after spending so much effort trying to build your network. I recommend that you use Linkedin.com to passively track of your contacts as they move from company to company.
Remember that building relationships is the key to building a successful career. Just be friendly and helpful and you’ll reap the benefits later.