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Is Networking Dead?

Dear Evil HR Lady, I've been on the job search for more than eight months. I know business inside and out and was once president of a company. I know what I'm doing, but I'm starting to wonder about "networking." Could it just be the new buzzword? Do any of you career advisers realize that there are virtually no jobs available in this economy, and talking to those of you who have jobs is not going to make more of them appear? This is coming from a person like you, who has also fired, laid off and hired thousands. I am beginning to become very, very frustrated hearing this very tired advice about networking. We are networking to talk about potential jobs that are simply not available, in industries that have been shipped over seas. In the meantime, the money has run out. Until some job creation happens, there are no jobs to network about. I have networked with so many people that all my friends and networks of friends are beginning to think it's just sad. Is anyone else out there feeling the same way -- or am I just a crazy old guy? Judging by my e-mail inbox and the unemployment rate, I don't think you're crazy at all. I think you're living the reality. Networking only works when the people you are networking with have jobs available. But the first rule of networking is: if you wait until you need a job, you've waited too long.

So, is networking dead? Well, more people quit their jobs in the last three months then were laid off. That means some people are getting new jobs -- or feel confident that they can get new jobs -- when they quit. And now their old jobs are open positions.

You also mention job creation. That isn't something that you can force, no matter how much you want to. Jobs happen when businesses feel like they can make more money with an additional person then they could without that person. The best way to do that is to make the cost of hiring someone as low as possible. I'm not talking about straight salary, I'm talking about all the costs involved in hiring people, taxes, regulations, health insurance, etc.

What would be easier is if I could just wave my magic HR wand and say, "New jobs! Now!" But if there are no jobs in that field, then there are no jobs in that field, and knowing everybody else in that industry won't help you. And yeah, networking just becomes a buzzword and an annoying one at that. So if there are no jobs doing X, networking won't help you find a job doing X.

Unfortunately, neither will whining about it.

You have choices. Let's say you're a covered-wagon maker. Yeah! Everyone needs covered wagons ... until times change and then they don't. Now what? Lament the fact that there are no jobs for covered-wagon makers? Start up an internet forum where unemployed covered-wagon makers can connect? Everybody race to get the one job opening at a historical farm? Curse Henry Ford and his newfangled automobile? Boycott the railroads? Or say, "Shoot, no one needs a covered wagon any more. I'd better learn something new"?

Lots of jobs in your industry have been outsourced to overseas operations. Like the covered-wagon maker, you can either fret about it or try something new. You may have to take a pay cut. You may have to completely change industries. You may have to start your own business. If you believe outsourcing was a mistake (and I have to say, in many, many cases I think it is), then go and build a business that shows people how having this service in their same time zone is preferable to whatever is offered overseas.

But, when you're changing careers, industries, or starting a business, you know what you need? Contacts. And how do you make those contacts? Dare I say it? Shhhh, (whispering) networking. And you'll need to take your networking in another direction. Stop looking for help from people who do what you used to do, and start looking at people who do what you want to do. Think you don't know any? I bet you're wrong.

Just a couple of days ago, I got an e-mail from a business colleague. Her husband had just been laid off and he was looking at some open positions in a company that happened to be in the same town I live in. Did I, by some strange stretch of the imagination, know anybody who worked for that company in that department? (Long shot, I know.) Well, yes, yes, I did. My daughter goes to school with a boy whose father works for that particular company, in that very department. I connected the two of them. You don't know what your neighbor's brother does unless you talk to your neighbor.

I wish I could give advice in the ideal world. It would be very easy, and the paths would always be very clear. But what we have to deal with is reality. And the reality is that networking is the worst method for finding a new job -- except for all the others.

Photo by AndyRob, Flickr CC 2.0

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