For unemployed or underemployed executives, sitting in front of a computer screen, submitting resumes and applications on line will not, in all likelihood, produce a job offer. And yet that is exactly what thousands of out of work executives will do today. They will push paper to potential employers and hope something sticks.
It is not a complete waste of time, but it is close. The computer is a networking tool, not the primary pathway to a return to employment. At the end of the day, it is the scope and quality of networking relationships that will produce the best results in the most efficient manner.
Let me explain why I think building and sustaining a robust network of professional contacts is so critical for executives today. The economy is showing signs of recovery, but staggering annual deficits and a crushing national debt signals that this decade is more about retrenchment, not business or life as usual as we have come to know it over the past 20 years. As we move through a period of sustained high unemployment, executives and managers cannot treat the development of a personal/professional network as a luxury for which there is little time in their busy schedule of work, family and leisure activities. This period of sustained higher than normal unemployment will be accompanied by continued volatility in the executive and management job market. In other words, no one is completely protected; everyone is at risk of losing their job.
For executives who have not invested time and effort in developing a large network who now find themselves on the job loss bubble, or those who have already been sacked, you have waited too long. Without this robust network of relationships that can help you connect the dots of potential new opportunities, you face prolonged unemployment unless, of course, you are an industry star or incredibly lucky. Not to be trite, but luck is not a very successful career management strategy.
Aside from building a professional network that can help in the event of a job loss, it also is important to have a network that will be the source of new ideas for strategies, program development and problem solving. In other words, your network also is a tool to add value to your organization.
As I speak to professional associations across the country, I am frequently asked about the role that networking sites such as PLAXO, LINKEDIN and Facebook should play in the development and management of a professional network. They, like thecomputer and other personal connectivity devices, are tools. But just having connections on these sites will not be any more helpful or successful than sending resumes to on-line employment sites. Having hundreds or even thousands of contacts is useless unless you do something with the information by engaging these people, finding out where they work, what they do and who they know. Moreover, waiting until the last minute to engage your contacts, or after the last minute when you are signing up for unemployment, is not much different than starting to build a network from scratch after you lose your job.
Building and nurturing a professional network requires discipline – to work on this every week, to allocate time to talk to or email people. Successful network development has become a core competency for leadership and career management success. To new graduates and up and coming executives, I encourage you to begin building and nurturing a relationship network on day one of your career. This will be as important to your success as producing stellar results. For those senior leaders who have enjoyed success in the past, it is never too late.
© 2011 John Gregory Self