Have you ever thought of bypassing recruitment agencies and human resource departments and to, instead, approach those people who have the real power to hire you? As daunting as it seems, this is among the tactics that graduates and job seekers are encouraged to adopt if they hope to secure the jobs they really want.
The way to get to these key people is by networking, Clare Astley, MBA professional development manager at Cass Business School, said. She was recently in Dubai to conduct workshops on job strategies with the business school's Dubai cohort.
"The job market is like an iceberg where 20 per cent is visible and 80 per cent is hidden — networking comprises the hidden part," Astley said.
"Networking is the number one way our MBA students secure a role post MBA. It's what we call the hidden jobs market," Astley said.
The direct approach
Networking and direct approaches lead to success. "This is especially true in Dubai where networking is key — it's about who you know and who knows you," she added.
She encourages people to send their tailored CVs or letters directly to line managers and avoid HR. Astley also suggests that job seekers contact companies that are not advertising roles.
She said many MBA students are completing the degree to make a career change "so if your experience doesn't match what you've done in the past, you need to find another way to get a job".
Astley explained that people or recruitment agencies that are advertising jobs are looking for specific people and they want an exact match.
If they get a CV from a person who has no experience in a particular area but wants to work in that field, they will dismiss it straight away.
But, if you've done the networking and spoken to people who like you, trust you and see potential, you've sold yourself face-to-face and not just on paper. "It's a much more powerful tool," Astley said.
An interesting fact she shared is that many advertised jobs are merely a formality as the right candidate has already been identified internally or through other channels.
"Networking cuts through the competition and gets you in front of the right people," she said.
Astley describes the process of networking as having an emotional bank account. You put in positive deposits in the form of assistance that you give to others before you make a withdrawal at a later stage.
"It's small things like remembering someone's birthday or remembering something you spoke about or sending an article saying ‘I was reading this article and thought of you'."
Following up in this manner is also a good way to keep a relationship going as Astley said that people struggle to maintain a relationship after they get the person's business card.
"When they give you that card, make a note on the back on something of interest that you spoke about. Write down anything else that will jog your memory when you look at it the next day and you have several cards and don't know who's who."
Some people have a more ruthless system where they have a pocket for cards they want to follow up on and another pocket for cards, which they have taken out of politeness, but are not interested in.
Astley also advised networkers to be generous with their contacts but to check if the contact is happy to be introduced to other people. "However, you will find people like to be introduced to other people who are going to be of help to them at some point."
"Networking is not about immediate gain but a long-term project where you reap benefits at a later stage."
Keep track of contacts
And keeping track of people is not easy. Maintaining an Excel spreadsheet with the names of the contacts, what you talked about, when you followed up and when you are going to follow up is advised.
Before attending a networking event, Astley's recommendation is to work on your "elevator pitch". The term is a widely used one that refers to the basic introduction of 30 seconds or less.
It should give an overview of who you are and what you are looking for. It can be used for networking events, career fairs, cover letters and formal interviews. The elevator pitch should be carefully crafted into three parts: who you are, what your strengths are, and what you want.
Body language is also important when it comes to your elevator pitch. Astley said that networkers should focus on their posture, eye contact, volume, tone, facial expression, clothing and handshake.
Once you are satisfied with the pitch and content of your elevator pitch, you should practise it enough to be confident and comfortable with it. Astley said professionals in the UAE tend to shy away from blatant networking events. "A lot of it has to do with the word ‘networking' and we try to make students think about it in a different way. We tell them it's about building relationships."
It's more about giving and building trust than receiving something or asking for a job.
"At a networking event, everyone is there for the same reason and everyone likes to build relationships — it's a human need. It's about connecting and finding similarities on ways to help each other."
Step out of comfort zone
Networking for women in Arab or Eastern cultures may be intimidating but those who choose to be in an international business environment have to step out of their comfort zones, Astley said.
They need to understand that this is the way business is done and it is how they can move along their agenda towards success.
"Actually, the best networkers are the quieter ones because networking is more about listening — it's not always about talking at someone."
She said people like talking about themselves and once you get them talking about their job or the thing that makes them happy, it's more beneficial for you.