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Your Job Search: Network Your Way To Your Next Job

Your Job Search: Network Your Way To Your Next Job

By James Van, Director of Career Services and Professional Development at SoloLearn


The Hidden Job Market

While there are a large number of online job postings on any given day, the majority of jobs are never posted online. The “hidden job market” refers to those jobs that are never posted online. Companies may post jobs on their website, but not on popular job listings such as Linkedin, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Glassdoor. In not posting on heavily trafficked jobsites, companies are betting that their internal recruiting efforts, combined with their existing networks will suffice to find the right candidates. And they have good reason to believe this — referral hires are less expensive to find, are better quality candidates, and are easier to hire than applicants through an online job posting. 

Behind the Scenes

It is commonplace for tech companies to offer referral bonuses to employees that refer candidates that get hired for open positions. Bonuses range from $500 to $20,000 per successful hire. The average bonus is around $3,000 - $5,000 for technical hires, not a bad deal for helping a friend get a job. 

The assumption the companies are making is that if you refer someone for a job, you are implicitly recommending that person as both a qualified candidate for the job and as a good work citizen. The employer assumes that you would not refer someone that was unable to do the job and difficult to work with. The employers are right. Callbacks from an online job posting average around 1-5% — a very low conversion rate. Companies report that while referrals account for 7% of their candidate pipeline, referrals account for 40% of their hires. Not only are referral candidates more often selected for interviews, they are also more likely to get the job. In addition to being higher quality and less expensive hires, companies report that they are able to hire them more rapidly, and candidates also report being more satisfied in their positions.

With the maturation of social recruiting (recruiters that use their broad online networks to mine candidates), companies have solved the problem of not having a large enough pipeline of referral candidates. The average person has at least 150 people in their online networks, so companies can easily estimate their candidate reach by multiplying their number of employees by 150. For many companies, this is a large enough pool from which to start recruiting. If the company exhausts their referral network, it might then post the open job online. That job you saw posted online may actually be older than the job ad itself, as the company may have posted it on a jobsite as a last resort. 

Bottom line: The larger your network, the more likely you know someone at one of your target companies that will be able to recommend you for an open job. 


What Is Networking?

Networking is essentially making friends. We’ve all done this before, so why is there so much angst and anxiety about networking? To understand what networking is, it may be easier to take a look at what networking isn’t and common mistakes made by job seekers.

Intentions in Relationship Building

Networking is all about meeting new people with the intention of building rapport and friendship, typically aligned around common interests. A common trap job seekers fall into is to network with the intention of meeting people to exploit their connections for referrals. This mindset puts a lot of pressure on the job seeker, but is also somewhat transparent to the people he meets. People have surprisingly good ability to sniff out when people they meet are disingenuous, or feel that person has an ulterior motive, or an agenda. People are commonly interested in developing rapport with others that display common interests, positive energy, authenticity, and those that are collaborative and sharing. 

Always Be Networking

We are constantly meeting other people and having conversations, whether transactional or not. When you are on public transportation going to school or work, and you start talking to the next person next to you, you are developing rapport, and potentially making friends. When you are in line at the grocery store, or getting a cup of coffee at your local favorite spot, you might chat with the person behind you. This is networking. The term happenstance describes the randomness in ways that events fall into place. A large percentage of job seekers report “being lucky” after finding a new job:

“I bumped into an old friend, we started talking, and…”


“I just happened to meet this person, and one thing led to another…”

Many of these success stories begin with references of luck, random conversations, and chance meetings. And while that person may not have intended to be lucky, have a random conversation, or have a chance meeting, the “lucky” circumstance happened, a conversation took place, and eventually that conversation led to an introduction to someone else, which led to a job interview. These people may have been “lucky” as described, but a few things help to increase our luck.

Make Contact

If getting lucky is partially dependent on “bumping” into others, then you need to put yourself into situations where you actually bump into others in real life, or virtually. Be active outside and online. And when safe, seek out activities and events that put you in contact with large and smaller, more intimate group settings. Attend events with a theme of personal interest to you and you are more likely to enjoy meeting interesting people. 

It’s a Numbers Game

Sure, you always want to focus on the person in front of you. But overall, the more people you “bump” into, the more likely that you will talk to someone that may eventually be a connection to a new job. 

Identify Down Your Asks

When the opportunity presents itself, know what to ask for. There are likely several different things that you may ask for, depending on your most current need, or the person to whom you are talking. For example, that person may be able to refer you to their company. Or perhaps they know someone at another company, would that be of interest? Or maybe they have been in your industry for many years, and are willing to share resources. Or maybe they are working on this cool new side or passion project and are looking for additional people to help. If someone asks how they can help you, your answer may vary, depending on who that person is. 

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

For many, meeting new people can be intimidating, or a daunting experience. To address this, think of it less as networking, and more like potentially finding a new friend. Have a few opening salutations and opening questions at the ready to engage others in conversation. For example, at a larger event, I may start out with, “Hi, my name is James. What brings you here?” I open up by introducing myself and immediately ask an open ended question that allows them to immediately focus on answering something about them. 

Listen and Talk Less

People generally like to talk about themselves. Ask a lot of questions and listen to what they have to say. Especially for those that are less comfortable making smalltalk, this can be a great way to engage in more meaningful conversations. Active listening calls for focus on the speaker —  acknowledging, gesturing, nodding in agreement, summarizing important points, and asking follow up questions. Most human beings are more interested in carrying on a conversation when they other person utilizes active listening techniques. 

Seek Opportunities to Help and Share

As you practice active listening, you will undoubtedly learn information about the other person. If you sense that person may benefit from something you are able to give or share, then offer it. Share a resource, your time, your opinion, or a connection. The gesture to offer help is associated with collaboration, authenticity, friendliness, and sharing. These are all qualities that human beings seek out when establishing rapport. 

Where Can You Network

As previously mentioned, networking can take place anywhere. Weddings, parties, family events such as reunions, professional or social meetups, conferences, restaurants, public transportation, and hackathons are all examples of places you might network in-person. 

Email, Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, webcasts, and virtual meetups are all examples of places you might network online.

As you might have guessed, varying your places and tactics will help you be successful in meeting new people and making new friends. Varying your places will also provide different profiles for the types of people that you “bump” into. 

In his over 20 year career, James Van has helped thousands find their next job. James began his career as a technical recruiter in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. After nine years of recruiting, James completed his Masters in Counselor Education at San Jose State University and transitioned into career counseling and coaching. James has supported the career growth of his students at institutions such as UC Berkeley, Hult International Business School, and Galvanize. He recently joined SoloLearn , a self-paced earn-to-code platform providing excellent technical instruction. In his personal hours, James enjoys spending his time with his family, windsurfing, surfing, and cycling.