Why Relationships May Be the Most Important Part of Your Job Search

I recently listened to a webinar on careers while I was transitioning between consulting assignments and I had a revelation. Most of the good positions I’ve held have come from relationships. Including high school, I’ve held 13 positions in my life. These include part-time positions I held while in high school, college, and full-time as an adult. I made a list of these positions and what I did to obtain them. Here’s what I discovered:

  • 8 (62%) came from relationships I built over time,
  • 3 (23%) came from third-party relationships (headhunters, search firms, agencies),
  • 2 (15%) came from online job boards/newspaper ads.

That means that 85% of my work came from relationships. Of those, 73% were from relationships I had built over time. In a survey of over 3,000 people, Lou Adler, author of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, claims that 85% of jobs are filled through some form of networking.

According to J.T. O’Donnell, founder and CEO of WorkItDaily.com, about 3% of all online applications will lead to an interview. When you consider these stats, you’d probably better off building and cultivating relationships. I was trying to figure out why I was not achieving my previous success and I realized that I was looking in the wrong place. I encourage you to create your own list of your current and previous positions and what you did to obtain them.

I’ve been fired twice in my life. Guess which positions I got fired from? If you guessed the positions I got from online job boards/newspaper ads, you’d be right. Both positions were not good fits. The first time I got fired was my fault. The second time is a story for another day. (See There Are No Dream Jobs, Only Dream People.) In reality, most online job postings end up being for jobs nobody wants. Once I realized this, I focused on relationships.

We have more relationships than we think. While your relationships may not quickly lead you to a job, (which in many cases may not be good anyway) it is usually the better route, even if you don’t have a job. Before you spray and pray with your online applications or business cards, make a list of the following:

  1. Friends
  2. Family
  3. Ex-coworkers
  4. Classmates (high school, college, grad school, etc.)
  5. Associations (alumni, industry, fraternity, other affiliations)
  6. People you know of (PYKOs)

When we think about who might help us in a job search, we tend to make a very short list of close friends or people who owe us a favor. Your network is much larger than you think it is. For example, if you go to your class reunion you will bump into some old classmates who can help you. PYKOs could be neighbors in your building, the security guard at your job, people you see regularly at places, like Starbucks, the gym, church, the beauty parlor, etc. This may be your largest group. Some members of your network may be in more than one group. The key takeaway is you never know who can help you.

In 1973 Johns Hopkins sociologist Mark Granovetter wrote a paper titled, The Strength of Weak Ties, which argued that weak ties (PYKOs) are often more helpful than strong ties. Our strong ties tend to travel the same way in the same social circles as we do. Weak ties are more likely to open us up to new networks and new opportunities. In fact, all ties, weak and strong, can open us to new networks and new opportunities.

I got my current position from giving my resume to a friend at a board meeting at a nonprofit we were helping to form. I’ve gotten two other positions from relationships with members of my church. These relationships were weak ties (PYKOs) at first but recommendations from others on my behalf were very helpful. Employers trust people who know good people. These relationships, weak or strong, often help you to bypass steps and red tape in the hiring process, thereby, increasing your chances of getting hired quicker. A relationship is a good way into a company and a good way to move up in a company. As they say, “It’s all about relationships.” And the more relationships you have, the better your chances are at getting an interview, and ultimately, a new job.

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