The Thread - Networking for Jobs

Sheryl Burgstahler, DO-IT Director

A DO-IT Scholar recently posed the following question in our Internet discussion forum. I will share with you some of the responses so that you can get a flavor of the many rich conversations the DO-IT community has online.

What is the best way to find a job?

Mentor: In my opinion, networking is definitely the best way to find a job. Not only does this provide you with access to jobs that aren't always listed in public forums, but having an insider help you out will also give you insight on what the position will really be like.

Ambassador: When you talk about networking, what exactly do you mean? From what I understand, networking involves visiting the business you want to apply to in order to learn about the jobs they offer. I would like to be able to do this, but the problem is that I don't know the town really well and have issues getting to businesses that require crossing busy intersections. I do, however, have people who assist me with applying for jobs. Those include a counselor at the state commission for the blind and a job counselor at our local career center. Let me know if my understanding about networking is correct. Thanks.

Mentor: I should have been more specific! Thanks for asking your questions. :) My perception of networking involves increasing the use of your own personal network. This would include asking your friends, colleagues, teachers, etc. about job leads; or trying to identify job leads yourself and then investigating to see if you have any inner-connection to that company.

For example, let's say I want to work at Bank X. I know someone who works there, but I'm not comfortable with asking him to identify a position that he thinks would work for me. Instead, I look at the listings of available jobs at that company, pick out a few I am interested in, and give my resume and the list of jobs to him. He then passes my information on to a recruiter, and I am called to come in for an interview. Depending on how well you know the person, they may be willing to do more or less. Hope this helps!

Mentor: That's a good example. I have several friends working at Microsoft who got their jobs by networking with acquaintances. Quite often, it's not just what you know, but WHO you know.

Another way to network is to schedule informational interviews with prospective employers. An informational interview should be an integral part of your networking and job-hunting plan. It involves talking with people who are currently working in the field to gain a better understanding of an occupation or industry-and to build a network of contacts in that field. You gain invaluable interviewing experience, as well as visibility.

You can find some helpful hints on informational interviewing at[Editor's Note: Link no longer available.]

Mentor: Networking is always an excellent idea to start. In addition, your career center at your school should have additional resources for you. Many times, a college will receive job leads which the student can obtain. Internships often lead to a possible position. My first job was the result of an internship I had at a lightning research company. Volunteering is another good avenue to explore. I obtained another job after volunteering for a year.

Ambassador: Those are very valid points. However, most of the businesses I apply to do not have employees whom I have contact with, though there are a few exceptions. For example, I have applied to the University of Washington where I know several employees there; some of whom I have known since I started attending Summer Study. In addition, I put in an application to Portland Community College (PCC). I have been training a visually impaired student who attends PCC and she and some other staff know about me. Hopefully, I will hear from one of these organizations.

If I know the towns well enough and can get everywhere I need to go using city transit, I would visit some potential employers and get to know some of the people who work there. This would make networking easier and increase my chances of finding a job. I welcome comments from others on the list.

Ambassador: My biggest success for finding work has been with job placement services at my college and others, such as the Vocational Rehabilitation and Training Implement Consortium. These kinds of organizations may not be the best option for everybody, but I find them useful because of the large network of connections and information that you can tap into through them. Also, they are a big help in filling out paperwork, finding transportation to and from work, and so forth. This is particularly important for me because I live in an area where if you don't know your options, you will never find them out on your own. Employers don't necessarily trust disabled people; they like to know you are backed up. I think all employers are like that.

P.S. The Internet is a good tool; you just have to be careful of which job search sites you trust. Make sure they are well-known and that they check their clients.

Ambassador: One thing I recently realized about Vocational Rehab and other service providers is that the employers are more likely to help somebody if the individual expresses his own interests, instead of having parents or caseworkers do it. For example, if Suzie's mom does all of the talking for Suzie but she does not show any interest herself, a caseworker who has multiple clients [won't] be likely to invest a great amount of time on the case either. I know this is what happened in my own situation, especially when my dad was around; sometimes he'd forget that he wasn't speaking for my own interests. From watching other parents of people with disabilities, this is the most common mistake I see.

Mentor: That's a really good point! I've noticed the same thing with my experiences at Vocational Rehab.