As we emerge from the recession amid a bit of evidence that hiring may be resuming, many people are entertaining the idea of finding a new job. Among them: Thousands of tech workers, considering ways to escape the overtime hours covering duties once performed by laid-off colleagues.
Most of these job searches will start with a personal network of family and close friends. Many will quickly end there because the average network is not large enough to sustain a job search.
250 - Number of people the average person knows
Most funeral directors and wedding planners believe the average person knows about 250 people. This sounds like a lot of folks to help you search for a new position but it contains many family members. While you should never discount anyone's ability to be a good contact, your background and heritage are big factors in determining the effectiveness of family contacts. If your family owns a business or includes an executive or two, they can certainly be helpful but for many job seekers, family members are better at providing emotional support than job referrals.
20/20 - Acquaintances make better contacts than close friends
This is a twist on the old "80/20" rule that states 80 percent of your output comes from 20 percent of your efforts. That isn't quite true with networking because the first 20 percent of your network will have too many contacts in common with you and with each other. The second 20 percent could prove to be more helpful.
This was confirmed in 1973 when sociologist Mark Granovetter published, "The Strength of Weak Ties" in the American Journal of Sociology. His study of a random sample of job changers in a Boston suburb found that 56 percent got their job through a personal contact, confirming that networking is the way to a new job. But his key finding was that 84 percent of that group got their job through a contact they saw "occasionally" or "rarely." This revealed the need to seek job-hunting assistance from people other than your closest contacts, the "weak ties."
But 20 percent of 250 is still 50 people, no matter where they come from in the average person's database. Sales professionals can make up to 20 cold calls an hour but contacting people you know will result in longer call times as you "catch up" with people. Assuming five calls per hour and that you reach everyone on the first try, you would exhaust the existing "weak ties" in your network in about 10 hours.
25% - The introvert factor
One study using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator found 25% of computer professionals were introverted. Obtaining new contacts can be a challenge for introverts (and some extroverts as well). But former co-workers are one of the best sources of "weak ties" because of their prior relationship at a previous employer. It's easier to rekindle a relationship versus creating a new one and statistically more effective. Best to start tracking down some former cube mates and re-establishing yourself with them.
The numbers paradox
Remember networking is not all about numbers. There is art and craft involved. The art is knowing how to approach and engage people when you need them more than they need you. The craft is creating your "pitch" and your request for help. While a small network can be a challenge, a blunt or tacky plea for assistance won't help even when sent to a thousand people.
You really need only one contact to get a job. The one with the job opening that matches your resume. Creating more connections now will increase the probability that you'll get closer to a future target contact. Your best sources are those laid off co-workers you have been covering for the last few years.
John Sullivan is a working Project Manager who writes and speaks on project and career issues.
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.