By Debra Feldman

In today’s competitive job market, those who know what you know can help you generate a competitive advantage. Over 70% of executive jobs are never advertised; most new opportunities are filled through recommendations and referrals. If you’re like most $100K+ executives, you are usually too busy getting things done to spend time cultivating new connections and maintaining your existing professional network.
So when the time comes to look for a new career challenge, chances are you understand the importance of contacts, but you don’t have a network of insider contacts to support your search. By strategically focusing on connections that help to access leads, you can network purposefully and make faster progress towards a great offer. Here’s how to jumpstart your campaign and build your network starting now.

Cold calling is a very effective method for initiating contact with hiring decision makers at target companies. Choose an individual who can appreciate your background and needs experienced help. Show them that you can deliver solutions and won’t be a drain on their resources. Commanding attention requires research into industry and company-specific challenges. Persevere until you finally get the chance to present your interest and demonstrate your strengths. If you don’t persist, another savvy prospective employee will get the job that you want. Communicating the right message to the right person at the right time is key to attracting attention and engaging the employer in a meaningful dialogue about hiring you for their team. Once you meet, keep in touch. It is a lot more difficult to connect the first time than to maintain a connection.

Increasing your visibility to hiring authorities will attract employers to you. You can orchestrate a place for yourself on decision makers’ radar screens by impressing them with your initiative, achievements, and extraordinary ability to deliver results. If you want employers to find you, first they need to know what you can do for their bottom line. One of the best ways to display your talents is to be involved in producing, not just attending, industry events. Volunteer to chair a section or organize a dinner. You can do this online by participating in forums and e-lists where your contributions are evidence of your expertise and knowledge. Get more mileage out of your publications and presentations by sharing citations and hand-outs with your connections. Don’t be afraid to give an interview (or seek one out).

Reaching out to industry leaders purposefully expands your network. By initiating contact and introducing yourself to authors, speakers, bloggers, academics and other key leaders in your field, your circle begins to grow. Then stay in touch via exchanges where you provide help as well as seek their assistance. Look for opportunities to meet others in your field, such as sending them a compliment, asking for their advice or sharing information and encouraging a conversation on a topic of mutual interest. Networking is not a transaction-oriented process but a series of mutually gratifying relationships that grow over time through shared experiences and common interests. Continually nourish, update and maintain your connections whether you are looking for a new job or happy where you are. Introduce your contacts that don’t already know each other – be the network’s spark.

Much of the hiring process is governed by referral relationships. Your network can plug you into unadvertised positions and deliver a competitive advantage in today’s job market. By keeping your contacts fresh and maintaining good relationships, it is more likely that new opportunities will find you even when you are not actively seeking a new challenge.

If you decide to launch a new job search, your network can produce the advice and leads you need to access a new challenge. Similarly, you can return the favor by providing assistance and offering recommendations to those you know. When everyone is contributing, everyone benefits. Be a pro-active connector who networks, keeps contacts and is sought out by others for inside information about new job leads.

Debra Feldman, an executive talent agent. Executives Network Purposefully™ establishing inside leads to unadvertised opportunities. Forbes praised her matchmaking talents as part sleuth, part networker.