Don’t rely solely on the Internet when developing a network of job contacts

Many job hunters spend their free time bouncing around on the Internet. They lose themselves on job boards and obsess over increasing their “contact” or “friend” lists on social networking sites. It’s true that online resources make it easy to gather information about your industry, research potential employers and keep in touch with former bosses and coworkers. The Internet is a great employment tool when used in moderation. But when it comes to landing a job quickly, too many hours spent online can actually hinder your success.

If you think about it, social networking isn’t really social. It introduces you to contacts, sure. But these sites do not provide fertile ground for developing genuine relationships. As I have mentioned in the past, authentic relationships — the ones that are rooted in trust — make the most powerful impact in the job market. They open your eyes to unpublished job opportunities. Plus, they often lead to personal referrals. The kind where your colleague is willing to lay her own reputation on the line by recommending you for a position.

If you want to cultivate these types of connections, I suggest that you add some face-to-face networking to your repertoire. Here are a few things to remember:

•Networking is not about getting a job.

Not exactly. It’s better defined as a method of fostering relationships with people who have a stake in the business world. Individuals who support your efforts. Who know your goals and attributes. After you establish a rapport, these people will think of you when new jobs become available.

You may feel tempted to march up to someone and ask about job openings. Point blank. Believe it or not, it’s usually faster and more effective to take a subtle, relationship-building approach. Develop trust first.

•Nobody wants to talk about work all the time.

Listening to people discuss workplace issues can be fascinating as you forge ahead in your job search. But no one wants to talk about work every minute of the day. Strike a balance in your conversations by finding other topics that you have in common, such as sports, family, hobbies or current events.

It hardly matters if you are networking at a business conference or happy hour, your objective is the same: to make new acquaintances and create the foundation for loyal, trusting relationships. Some of these connections will grow naturally over time. Others will not. Be friendly and sincere in your interactions. See where they go.

•Stay connected.

The most important aspect of networking is keeping in touch. How else will you translate short conversations into real relationships that have an impact on your career? This is where social networking and other online tools can help you achieve your goals.

Don’t forget that balance is vital to a successful job search. If you find yourself frittering away too many hours on the Internet, step out from behind your desk for a while.

Check out educational seminars, industry events, employment discussion groups or even local businesses where people tend to socialize after work. Talk to people at non-networking sites as well. Say hello. Make contact. Then, use the Internet to stay in touch and allow your interactions to deepen over time.

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