As director of operations for a Baltimore home health-care company, Colleen Dougherty was used to networking. Still, she wasn't sure it could lead her to a new job.
"I was a little skeptical that this was a way to find a position," she says, recalling the job hunt that started last spring.
Now, she's a believer.
Through a concentrated networking campaign that reached more than 100 people over a four-month period, she landed a job with Ernst & Young's health care consulting practice in New York.
The circle of contacts began with a single point: an Atlanta-based consultant with whom she had worked at Med-Care Home Health Resources Inc.
She traveled to Atlanta to meet him, and came away with a job interview at his company. Networking lesson No. 1: You never know when an information-gathering interview may lead to bigger and better things.
"You have to take every networking interview and isolate it," she says. "Determine whom you're meeting and what their interest is."
From the outset, she set some specific goals. She tried to schedule at least two networking interviews per week. At each interview, she asked for two more contacts.
Gradually, she began to focus on the consulting field. Lesson No. 2: Job seekers should stay open and flexible while networking. "You'll find yourself networking in an industry, and then you'll find an associated industry to really concentrate on," she says.
To get a feel for the major consulting firms, she mined back issues of the Wall Street Journal at the Columbia library. Meanwhile, she contacted several former employees of those firms, including a friend of her sister.
Those contacts steered her away from one major firm, whose conservative environment seemed ill-suited for her personality. They also dispelled rumors that Ernst & Young was a employee mill, a firm that had high turnover because it mistreated employees.
"You have to keep in mind -- a lot of what people tell you, you have to verify," she warns.
Just as important, she says, is not kidding yourself about the difficulty of networking.
"It's a lot of work. You have to be available to go and meet with these people on their schedule," she says. "Take it seriously. If you give yourself a block of time, don't believe it's not a full-time job."
Yet job seekers shouldn't let networking dominate their lives, she says.
"There were a couple of weeks that went by when I didn't make contacts or couldn't get interviews," she says. "That can be very demoralizing."
To soften those little defeats, she carved out some time away from networking. For example, she made a point of having lunch out twice a week with friends who supported her job hunt.
She cautions, "Networking really takes on a life of its own."
A NETWORKING CHECKLIST
* Make contacts through friends and business acquaintances. Get involved in trade groups. One helpful resource: the "Encyclopedia of Associations," available at libraries.
* Set goals -- Make at least two networking contacts per week. Do it on a regular schedule, like a job.
* Be flexible. Watch for openings in related fields.
* Don't abuse networking. Be brief, be specific. Don't waste your contacts' time.
* Double-check information you receive on a company -- it might be tainted by a personal grudge.