While I’m out sick from the office today, nursing a cold and suffering from an almost complete loss of my voice, I’m thankful that at least my fingers still work — since I’m a bit behind on my normal blogging regimen and this will be a good chance to get some thoughts out of my brain and onto the page!

Primarily, looking back at various experiences over recent weeks, what stands out the most in my mind is the growing and critical importance of “social capital” as part of the career success equation.  I know, I know.  Everybody has figured out by now that networking is supremely important and that landing a job is most likely going to come through a word-of-mouth interaction, as opposed to published ads or staffing firms.  And yet, in recent months, I’ve seen multiple forms of evidence that suggest this dynamic is even more pronounced that in has been in years past, and that personal relationships are now accounting for perhaps 80-90% of all hiring activity — compared to the traditional 60-70% statistic that is most frequently tossed around!

Now unfortunately, I don’t have the resources to launch a major longitudinal survey to prove this hypothesis beyond the shadow of a doubt, but I can attest, anecdotally, that the vast majority of clients I’ve been working with who have landed recently have done so primarily through a personal relationship of some kind.  To me, it’s as if companies have largely given up relying on advertisements to find the talent they need, at least for mid-to-senior level positions, likely due to the fact that they a) don’t want to have to invest dozens of hours in resume screening and interviewing and b) they figure they’re virtually guaranteed to find a trusted, vouched-for candidate from among their network if they put the word out far and wide enough.

There was a recent article I came across discussing the massive growth of the Craigslist job board, in fact, but then commenting how some companies have stopped using it since they were getting overrun with resume submissions.  And on a separate but related note, one of my clients who just landed (hooray!) mentioned that the reason he was selected for the job was because the hiring manager knew him from a few years back, at a previous company, and figured it was just faster and easier to hire him — as opposed to wading through the hundreds of other resumes that were sent in.  So on the surface, one might have seen the advertisement in question and thought it was a level playing field, but as in so many cases, the spoils went to the person who had a personal connection to the company, behind the scenes.  Ah, nepotism can be a beautiful thing when it works for you, rather than against you!

So from my standpoint, based on the activity currents I’ve been observing out there in the market, the importance of networking has taken yet another quantum leap forward in terms of job search effectiveness, leading me the main “advisory” point of this posting: it’s high time for every professional to take their relationships seriously and get their social capital in order!

What does this mean, exactly?  It means that if you walk into my office, and ask me why your job search and career prospects don’t seem to be faring very well, the first thing I’m going to want to know about is the quality and quantity of the relationships you’ve built over the years.  And if you’re not able to produce a list of some kind, outlining the various people you have in your network, I’m going to send you off to create one.  I don’t care whether you use a simple Excel spreadsheet, Microsoft Outlook, a fancy CRM system like Act! for Windows, or even good old-fashioned pen and paper — we just need to get a handle on who you know, how you know them, and how well you’ve communicated with them about your current situation.  It’s really that simple.  And it’s the absolute baseline starting point for anybody who wants to engage in a serious discussion about either generating new business for their company or generating fresh leads from a job search standpoint.

You wouldn’t consult a financial advisor (or at least expect useful advice) without being able to show them where all of your financial capital is tucked away, would you?  Along the same lines, don’t consult a career coach or seek out help with your job search strategy until you can account for the full spectrum of your social capital and how it’s distributed.  It’s an absolute necessity to have such a system in place, no matter which corner of the professional world you inhabit, and your system doesn’t have to be complicated — just complete!