Job Search Networking Secrets From the Top Recruiters

WorkCoachCafeI attended the Fordyce Forum, a two-day conference of top independent recruiters (also known as “head hunters”). And it was a VERY educational experience! At the Forum, I was able to meet and interact with over 120 of these top professional networkers in action. And the activities I observed offer important insights for effective job search – and career – networking for the rest of us.

It’s important to notice that this networking, at a conference, was most definitely face-to-face networking. Not simply “following” someone on social media or “connecting” on LinkedIn.

This networking was very much “in real life’! Social media allows us to “meet” people on a superficial level, but the best way to connect, for most humans, seems to be face-to-face. Probably not constantly, but apparently at least once.

Head Hunters Are Relentless Networkers.

Billed as “a conference for search and placement professionals” from the publishers of the Fordyce Letter, the Forum brought together independent recruiters from across the country to network and to learn new things.

Head hunters are a very interesting universe that most of us glimpse very briefly – if at all – in our careers. They make their living by finding appropriate job candidates for their clients (employers) who have high level opportunities or opportunities which are difficult to fill. Not an easy way to make a living (for most of us), but it can pay very well, apparently, if you are successful.

The right connections – client employers with jobs to fill, colleagues with clients who have jobs to fill (and finder fees to share), and candidates meeting the employers’ requirements – turn into revenue, very clearly.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. For these recruiters, their networks provide direct revenue and revenue opportunities, so they understand the value of their networks because they see that value reflected in their bank accounts.

Networking Secret: Networking Has 2 Recognizable “Flavors.”

Fordyce offered several unstructured networking opportunities in the 2-day Forum, and they were all very well attended. These people definitely understand how to leverage networking opportunities, and watching them in action was quite enlightening.

Because recruiters know that their network directly impacts their income, they are advanced practitioners of the art of networking. Observing them at the Forum, I recognized 2 different kinds of very purposeful networking happening in the many networking opportunities which were provided for attendees.

1. Growing Your Network (“Offensive Networking”):

What I saw as “Offensive Networking” is what most of us think of as “Networking”. And this is what most of us do – expanding our network, reaching out, and meeting new people.

For recruiters, network growth/offensive networking benefits included:

  • New connections – expanded business opportunities that result when recruiters help each other fill positions, sharing the fees paid by the employers for the filled jobs. For these recruiters, the larger their networks, the greater their revenue opportunities, and the higher their income probably is.
  • New business – finding new clients, indirectly since only recruiters were at Fordyce.

For job seekers, good network growth/offensive networking benefits include:

  • New connections – more people know about you, and might recommend you for a job (if they know what you want)
  • Better opportunities – having contacts “on the inside” already working for your target employers who can help when you find an opportunity there.

Offensive networking is where most of us stop. We focus on growing our network without really paying attention to the members already in it. Because networking is such an integral and important part of their success, these recruiters go beyond collecting business cards.

2. Nurturing and Protecting Your Network (“Defensive Networking”):

For these recruiters, networking also plays a defensive, protective role, as it could for all of us. Benefits of all this defensive networking include:

  • More visibility – conference attendance makes it obvious they are still actively in business and still “players” in their field of operation. This keeps reputations strong and existing clients content.
  • More viability – conference attendance renews the relationships with other recruiters/business partners, important and relevant to those partners.
  • More credibility – reconnecting also keeps them well informed about:
    • News in their field of operation – their location, business segment, industry, level of placements, etc.
    • New people – potential business partners, competitors gaining visibility, etc.

Defensive networking activities included:

  • Making introductions (helping network members expand their networks),
  • Catching up on what was going on with existing network members,
  • Discussing opportunities with existing members,
  • Sharing experiences and advice with existing network members.

It felt a lot like a few of the team-building exercises we did in the corporate world in the 1990′s, but it happened spontaneously.

For job seekers, defensive networking could include:

  • Sharing a job lead that doesn’t work for you,
  • Making introductions (of employed and/or unemployed people, as long as the introduction is potentially useful to both),
  • Staying in touch with former colleagues,
  • Going to an industry or professional association meeting or conference, even just visiting the “exhibit hall” (which is usually free or inexpensive) to catch up on the current players and technologies,
  • Writing or sharing an article or a blog post relevant to the network member.

Think team-building, again – you are building the team that will help you as you help them beyond your current job search.

For Your Job Search (and Career) Network Like a Head Hunter

Most people I know, both job seekers and entrepreneurs, tend to practice hit-and-run offensive networking, but very little defensive networking. We briefly connect with other members of our network, mainly through online media like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and email. This is often very “shallow” connecting, and the relationships often just die of age and lack of attention. And, I suspect, because there is no real human connection – just electrons (which need electricity from a power supply – another article for another time).

Recruiters are not actually a “special case” in network valuation, requiring both network growth (offense) and network protection (defense). But, they are the best example I’ve seen recently. I think that every sales professional, from your car dealer or local real estate salesperson to Donald Trump, probably does a variation on the same thing – as a requirement for success!

Bottom Line

In the future, I believe that this connection will become more obvious to many more of us. I think that face-to-face networking is still very important for lasting relationships and genuine connections. But, we will also use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and whatever else appears, to expand our networks. We will find more ways to meet “in reality” as well as virtually. As those applications/societies mature and as our understanding of how to interact in them matures, we will use them more effectively for network nurturing and protection as well.

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About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 2011, Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPost.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.

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