Your 31 Hidden Networks That Can Help You Land Jobs

by Julie Rains on 13 February 2012 (17 comments)

This series is brought to you by TurboTax Federal Free Edition.

As a job hunter, you know that networking is often essential to finding a new position. You may have already called your old boss or sent your résumé to the neighbor who is a human resources manager.

But you know more people than you realize. Tap your hidden network of contacts, which can help you on the path to landing a great position in many ways:

  • Alert you to job openings or potential opportunities
  • Explain areas of responsibility and duties associated with various functions and job titles, and how these fit within the organizational structure
  • Provide recommendations, either on paper or via LinkedIn
  • Enlighten you on attributes desired by the hiring manager and team members
  • Offer you a position or introduce you to someone who can
  • Advise on how to navigate the candidate screening and selection process.

Take a moment to consider who you know in these networks:

School Contacts

Your initial list of school contacts will most likely include high school and college buddies, sorority sisters or fraternity brothers, and members of your alumni association. That’s a great start but there are more who fall into these categories: 

  1. Classmates in leadership development schools and colleagues in training programs for professional and industry designations
  1. Former teachers, counselors, advisors, and coaches
  1. Past professors, particularly those who consult with corporations as well as those who serve on advisory boards for entrepreneurial ventures and non-profits
  1. Community college instructors, including those who hold full-time positions at area businesses or freelance in their specialty areas
  1. Parents of your child’s classmates, whom you may encounter at school events or serve with on volunteer committees
  1. College or school-specific groups within the university system (for example, there are networking opportunities with the University Alumni Association and Kenan-Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  1. Alumni chapters that meet largely for social interaction   
  1. LinkedIn groups associated with your college or university
  1. Athletic and band booster clubs

Community Groups

If you are involved in a faith community, you have probably called those you see on weekly basis. You may also network with people in your local civic or chamber groups.

However, there are many people in community-based groups that you meet with face-to-face on a regular basis but you haven’t considered as part of your network. By serving (or sweating) side by side, they may know much about your work ethic, value, and dedication to teamwork as well as your ability to lead meetings, recruit and organize volunteers, coordinate special events, etc. Think of people such as:

  1. Volunteers with outreach ministries, either directly associated with your church or comprised of people from many churches in the wider community
  1. Cycling, running, and triathlon club members  
  1. Members of your community pool and tennis club, fitness facility, or local “Y” 
  1. Fellow artists or performers associated with arts associations, theater groups, or dance troupes 
  1. Members of affinity groups such as book clubs
  1. Parent volunteers associated with scouting groups and youth athletic teams

Service Providers

You might have gotten in touch with a corporate recruiter or your career-services provider as soon as you realized that you needed to find a new place of employment. Other service-oriented people may be able to help also, such as:

  1. Fellow job hunters and organizers associated with community job-search support groups
  1. Your accountant and attorney, who may know business owners and hiring decision-makers
  1. Your insurance agent, who likely comes into contact with thousands of people each year
  1. Your barber, dry cleaner, bike mechanic, etc. who also know a lot of people

Work Networks

Naturally you think of your old boss or the owner of the company where you worked. Others from your past work experiences include:  

  1. Customers, who can attest to your excellent service and industry knowledge
  1. Vendors, who are familiar with how you conduct business
  1. Colleagues, who may have matured and grown professionally since you last worked together
  1. The children or the parents of coworkers (depending on your age, those who are a generation younger or older may be excellent contacts within your hidden network)
  1. People you met through trade associations and professional groups

Online Contacts

Of course, you think of your direct LinkedIn connections and perhaps your extended network (mine contains more than 3 million people), but consider these also: 

  1. Facebook friends
  1. Those in your Google+ Circles
  1. Twitter followers
  1. Online forum leaders and members with whom you interact on a regular basis

Friends, Relatives, and Neighbors

You have probably let your circle of friends, family members, and next-door neighbors know about your job search. But consider those whom you’ve known for a while but may not see quite as often:

  1. Friends of friends, including those who may be more connected than you realize because their volunteer activities, front-line positions, or avocations puts them in contact with community or business leaders
  1. Far-flung relatives or those outside of your immediate family, whom you see infrequently but predictably at family reunions and weddings
  1. Current neighbors, including those in your neighborhood association, plus those from childhood and early adult years and the now-grown children of your neighbors.

Are there hidden networks that you have tapped to help you land a job? Share in the comments. 

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Will Chen's picture

Great tips Julie. Most people are very happy to help their acquaintances find work. I think most of us remember how hard it is to find a job (especially as a younger person trying to break into an industry). And helping people find work also expands my network. It is truly a win-win situation.

Guest's picture
Elyse Stein Zois

And what do you do when you are out of work and considered "too old" because you are approaching retirement age? Some places where I used to work are gone. I don't even know which of my former teachers are still alive. I have no attorney, accountant, barber, bike repair shop and my insurance agent is a lizard. My far-flung relatives will be no help as I can't just uproot myself and go chasing down a job in another part of the country. Once again, I look for help and find an article written for the upper middle class recent graduate with actual connections.

Will Chen's picture

Hi Elyse,

Networking is definitely tougher when you approach retirement age, especially if the companies you used to work for are no longer around.

However, I don't think you need to know specific people to get the benefits of networking. For example, you don't need to go to the exact teacher you had when you went to school. You can still go to your school's alumni association and ask about what kind of networking events they have.

If your industry has an organization, attend some of their events, volunteer to organize events, or contribute a free article to their newsletter. You have the advantage of experience. I think people would be pleased to hear what you have to say and learn from your skill set.

As for your far-flung relatives, don't give up on them. You never know what contacts they have unless you ask around. In this day and age, people move around constantly. Maybe one of your relatives had a neighbor who works in the industry you want to work in, and has since moved to your part of the country.

I wish you the best of luck in your job search.

Julie Rains's picture

Look to your contacts in the younger generation if you consider yourself in the older one. When I was writing this article, I thought of a family member who I don't consider too old but is in her late 50s and then considered the little kids who I hung out in the neighborhood. And wouldn't you know that the neighbor kid who frequently got in trouble way back when has moved from a creative field to entrepreneurship to a corporate type job in his early 50s and would be a great contact for my family member. I found the now-grown neighbor through a LinkedIn profile -- so if you haven't already developed contacts through this method, you should go ahead and get started. Plus your far-flung relatives may still have contacts in your hometown.

As Will reiterated, alumni associations are great sources, whether you have old college buddies you are looking up or not.

And, the reason I thought of cycling groups, outreach groups, book clubs, parent groups -- wherever there are circles of people -- is that those are activities that I am involved in as a non-recent graduate.

Don't discount people who you think can't help. You never know who can give you great leads or excellent advice until, well, they actually do.

I did write the article for the Wise Bread audience (younger-than-me readers) but certainly wanted to make it applicable to people of all ages. Hope highlighting some of the tips relevant to multiple generations helps! Good luck!

Ashley Jacobs's picture

I have never thought to use my insurance agent or accountant to find a job! I've always thought to just stick with the traditional networks (i.e. classmates, work contacts, family, and friends). These are some seriously awesome tips on out of the box people to reach out too! I'll be sure to keep them in mind if I am ever job hunting in the future!

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks -- those wouldn't have been the first people I would think of either. But several years ago, my insurance agent referred someone to me for my business -- I hadn't even asked but he made the connection.

Meg Favreau's picture

One network I've found more useful than I would have ever expected is people who do the same work that I do. It was especially helpful when I was freelancing full-time. Sometimes people get offers for work, but they're too busy, just accepted another position, etc. In that case, they'll recommend someone else they know who does similar work. I try to do the same thing now. I used to do a lot of writing about Philadelphia, and now that I'm not living there, I pass on job leads to friends who are.

Julie Rains's picture

Great mention Meg. People often need professionals in their own field and similar ones to refer folks to (either b/c they don't have time to service the business or the client isn't a good fit with their business) so looking to get referrals from colleagues + competitors is a great idea.

Guest's picture

School contacts #2 and #5 - yes! I'm friends with former teachers and professors on Facebook, and they have great connections with others in a variety of fields. And getting to know parents your child's classmates opens up a whole other network.

Julie Rains's picture

Glad those are great connections for you, and as you mention, you can network with those who are not in your same field.

Carmen Grant's picture

This is a great list! One of the many hats I wear is my "Certified Federal Job Search Counselor" hat - and I train military spouses and personnel how to search for federal jobs and write resumes. One of the tricks I learned on the side is to find the agencies Twitter handle and tweet them directly with an link page - especially if it is an agency that is going through a lot of upgrading - mostly all of them right now. They want fresh bodies in government with fresh ideas and social media is an amazing way to get noticed -

# 30 I have had more luck getting job leads from distant relatives than close ones - likewise my younger relatives that I did not grow up with are the ones that come to me for career hunting advice over my own flesh and blood brother - goes to show you that you can't be a prophet in your own household! LOVE tapping into distant relative info -

#24 and #28 are absolute gold in my opinion! There is no awkward moment of forced small talk, just straight to the point, this is what I do, this is what I want to do, can you help me? And many times forum leaders will post to niche forums about jobs in the field - I do this constantly on a military spouse forum - whenever I see something that is specific to milspouses OR to blogging, I post to the spouse forum and encourage everyone to apply. Social media is awesome.

And while social media rocks, in person meetings are even better, which is why I always try to make as many appearances to professional conferences as possible. I network with people who are attending on twitter and facebook, then when I meet them in person it is like we have always known one another - which is a bit odd - yet endearing at the same time.

ok! off to share this article on Facebook!

Will Chen's picture
Will Chen

Tweeting the agencies is such a great tip. Most people don't realize that federal agencies are getting into social media as well.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for sharing with us (and on Facebook!) how you have benefited from these contacts -- great examples.

Amy Lu's picture
Amy Lu

All of these are really great networks! I'm not looking for a job right now, but some of my friends are, so I'm always keeping an eye out for job opportunities. I especially like online contacts, mostly because it's so easy to post a job opportunity on Facebook/Twitter and spread the word by simply sharing/retweeting the post.

Julie Rains's picture

Yes, I shared a Wise Bread opportunity on Facebook not too long ago. And you mentioned a key in networking -- sharing with people when it can help someone else, not just yourself.

Will Chen's picture
Will Chen

"I'm not looking for a job right now"

You better not be. :p

Guest's picture

Julie, this is a great article because of the inclusion of the personal and interest area networks. Many people fall into the trap of compartmentalizing their lives and with it their networks. When they are thinking of work, they only look at their professional networks but the reality is, you never know who is sitting next to you at the PTA meeting or at the book club. Additionally, it increases your opportunity to be a connector - when you can link two people in your network for something completely out of your sphere! Personal networks expand your circle exponentially and transcends age groups.