Fans of Bruce Mount sang his praises to BzzAgent before he applied to become vice president of engineering of the Boston word-of-mouth marketer.
In late June, the software-development manager asked nearly two dozen present and past colleagues to tout his abilities. "Even one sentence will help!" he assured them. Their testimonials ranged from a brief haiku to a multipage missive dubbing him "a freakin' goldmine of knowledge, ingenuity and kindness."
Unusual times demand unusual networking tactics. Most candidates find work through networking, surveys show. But in today's dismal job market, many feel frustrated with standard strategies such as tapping friends for referrals.
Clients of Laurence J. Stybel, a Boston outplacement counselor, fret that acquaintances ignore their aid requests because the contacts fear losing their jobs. Anxious about unemployment, people hoard knowledge about openings for themselves and closest friends. Networking "is perceived to be a zero-sum game," the president of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire says.
"The bar has been raised on what it takes to make networking work," concurs Scott Allen, a consultant about online networking. "Virtual interaction allows us to create the illusion of networking by making electronic links with people," but online ties represent "just a starting point," he says. "You still need some kind of relationship."
For job hunters who use networking Web sites like LinkedIn.com, Mr. Allen favors a more-sophisticated approach. When you invite someone to join you on LinkedIn, he proposes including a personalized offer of help, such as an introduction to a customer or a useful link to a relevant article.
In the real world, you can improve your networking by finding out whether key executives of potential employers will attend a trade group meeting and then scheduling encounters during the event, recommends Brandon Gutman, vice president of business development at Battalia Winston International, a New York search firm. "Don't expect to just show up and bump into these people," he cautions.
Robb Leland wanted to move into mobile marketing, which involves targeting promotions at mobile devices. He identified three mobile-marketing concerns that were listed on an industry association's site as being registered for the group's March 2008 conference. He then contacted officials at the companies, including Shira Simmonds, president and co-founder of Ping Media.
Seated beside each other during a conference seminar, they immediately found common ground. "That's why I'm here today," says Mr. Leland, who joined Ping Media as senior business-development manager in September.
There are additional ways to network more effectively at events. "Be the only person like yourself in the room," Dr. Stybel advises. For instance, he encourages human-resources managers to attend local meetings of Financial Executives International and share their expertise about compensation practices. Because many HR executives report to chief financial officers, those who belong to that professional organization probably hear about promising HR positions.
An offbeat but memorable "elevator pitch" will also make you stand out in a crowd, says Lorraine Howell, a public-speaking trainer in Seattle.
Several years ago, Ms. Howell coached Wimsey Cherrington, a Seattle massage therapist who unearths hidden causes of chronic pain. The therapist was having trouble describing her specialty during gatherings of a women business owners' group. "Networking wasn't working at all," Ms. Cherrington remembers.
Things changed after the therapist began calling herself "a body detective." The catchy description "at least doubled my practice," Ms. Cherrington says.
Still frustrated? Your network may know why. Ask friends, relatives and associates to anonymously assess your strengths and weaknesses through SurveyMonkey.com, an online polling tool, suggests Diane Darling, a Boston networking specialist.
The gambit worked for her. Based on her SurveyMonkey feedback, she realized her artsy-looking purple pantsuits hindered her career success because she didn't look "corporate." Those contacts never "would have ever told me this in person," Ms. Darling says. She fixed her image by buying costly, classic business suits.
Write to Joann S. Lublin at firstname.lastname@example.org