Campus speaker explains why networking trumps a job board

9.2.2013 Article, School News


Network your way to your next career move

Campus speaker explains why meeting the old-fashioned way trumps a job board every time.

If you want to get ahead in business, be willing to toot your own horn, talk to strangers often and send your contacts a letter – that old-fashioned thing that gets to people via the U.S. postal service, Darrell Gurney told business students.

Gurney, an author, speaker and career coach, offered students tips for effective networking in a talk at Farrell Hall on Sept. 2, “Never Apply for a Job Again: Break the Rules, Cut the Line, Beat the Rest.”

The School of Business invited Gurney to campus this year to work with students across programs on strategies for developing and managing their professional network. “Networking is an essential element of a successful job search and ongoing career development,” MBA Director, Market Readiness and Employment’s Nicole Hall said. “Darrell’s visit will further equip students with the essential tools to develop a network and partner with our career coaches.”

Gurney calls his method lifetime career management. “Most people think of themselves as employees,” he said, “but the truth is, everybody owns their own business. You just choose to lease your employable assets.”

His techniques work for middle-aged executives who are laid off, as well as students in graduate business school programs. In fact, he said students often have an advantage over working professionals because people in the business world tend to feel morally obligated to help students.

Gurney graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in finance and international business. He is the author of several books about effective networking, job hunting and career changes. Gurney’s visit was sponsored by the Center for Excellence for Market Readiness and Employment.

Eighty percent of the job openings are filled before they’re advertised. That means that for every opening that’s advertised online, four others have already been filled. People who want to find out about those unadvertised jobs need to tap into what Gurney calls the “backdoor job search.”

MBA degrees are most useful when they’re applied in an area where someone has a passion, so students should think about what they would do for a living if money didn’t matter. From there, Gurney said to develop a research project that gets you in the door to talk with people. Some students use their last year of school to investigate areas of interest.

For example, Gurney said he worked with a middle-aged telecommunications marketing director who had a passion for Jewish culture. She began talking with people about how she might use her skills in an area where a knowledge of Judaism was helpful. She now works as an executive director at a nonprofit that trains bomb-sniffing dogs for use in Israel.

In a digital age, an old-fashioned letter can get people’s attention. Compare the number of unanswered emails in the average inbox to the amount of time most people spend looking at the few envelopes that turn up in their mailboxes, he said.           

Desperation works about as well in job hunting as it does in dating, Gurney said. Interviewing people as part of a research project takes the pressure off. Students should ask people about their backgrounds and what skills would be useful in the field. They should end an interview by asking for referrals to others they might talk with and a request to keep in touch.

He advised students to buddy up and help each other practice interviewing. They should try to write two letters a week and schedule one face-to-face meeting during that time. Students who start in the fall and follow his approach should have about 25 contacts by May, he said.

Once you get a job, you shouldn’t stop building your network, Gurney said. No one can predict what will happen to the economy or a particular career field. Those with vibrant networks will find it easier to weather the inevitable ups and downs of the work world.

“You will always be in transition,” he said.

Meena Gurung (MBA ’14) arrived in America eight years ago from Nepal.

She said that one of the more valuable tips she picked up from Gurney’s talk was about identifying her passions. She had trouble listing three things that she enjoyed doing when Gurney asked the class to make a list, so she intends to spend some time thinking about that.

“I know I like helping people,” she said. “How do I use my degree to find that perfect job?”