Ah, the age-old question.  What’s the best way to find a job?

Should one rely mostly on published advertisements?  Work through recruiters and placement agencies?  Attend job fairs?  Hand out resumes at every networking event in town?  Produce a funny YouTube video?  Wear a sandwich board?  Pull out the phone book and cold-call every employer within a 20-mile radius?

If there’s one thing I can tell you, a diversified mix of different activities is almost always going to work better than a single strategy.  Not only are there certain synergies involved when you employ different channels in combination, but mixing up your job-finding routine and doing different things each day will also help keep you sane throughout the emotional turbulence of the process.  This isn’t to say, though, that the “marketing mix” is the exact same for everybody and that different proportions of these activities won’t work better from person to person.  A lot will depend on the types of jobs you’re targeting (e.g. executive roles vs. retail opportunities) and your own personal skills, strengths, and preferences.  A software programmer, for example, is going to have a lot more luck going through recruiters than a more generalized candidate.  And somebody who lacks confidence is not going to get very far with the cold-calling approach, so may need to fall back on more passive approaches, instead, leveraging warm relationships or e-mail-driven techniques.

It’s still a great question, though.  What job-finding method works best?  So on that note, let’s bring a little “pseudo-science” into the equation.  In the past month, I’ve been able to get over 400 people to weigh in on (via a LinkedIn poll) on how they found their last job, which gives us a statistical sample of data around this issue.  Here’s the question that was asked and the findings that resulted:

“How did you get your current or most recent job? Where did the lead come from?”

The five response choices were:

1) A personal contact who told you about it
2) A published advertisement of some kind
3) A recruiting firm or staffing agency
4) A “cold” inquiry to a firm, seeking work
5) Another method not listed above

A total of 402 people cast their vote on this particular topic, and while you’ll see a small graphic of the results below, you can click here to access the full set of results.

The Analysis?  The very first thing that jumps off the page, to me, is that while personal contact networking (the orange bar) definitely leads the pack overall in terms of job-creation activities, the percentage of people actually reporting getting a job via this route (34%) is WAY below the typical statistics of 60%, 70%, and 80% that most career yokels like myself throw around.

What accounts for this?  Do we just not have a big enough sample of job hunters to work with?  Were the response choices posed not written clearly enough?  Or has the importance of networking in the job search process been inflated to the point where it actually receives more “hype” than it truly deserves?

As always, I’m open to your thoughts and comments.  Personally, however, I suspect that the latter two scenarios I mentioned above might have played a role in the somewhat surprising results that came back.  For starters, I noted that in many of the actual comments people submitted following the poll, they counted things as “other” that I would squarely have placed in the corner of networking.  For example, one person wrote “I voted ‘other’ as I had worked with the hiring manager previously and he knew I was looking.”  To me, that’s networking 101.  Somebody you’d worked with before learned that you were available — and hired you as a result.  And in other cases, people reported that they found their last job through LinkedIn, or that a personal contact of theirs had forwarded them an advertisement that seemed up their alley.  Again, while there’s definitely some wiggle room in these instances, I’d still chalk both of those methods up as being of the “networking” persuasion.

As for the hype factor surrounding networking, yeah, I think many of us have been guilty of trumpeting the importance of networking a bit TOO aggressively, at times.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the way that the majority of jobs (especially professional jobs) are found in America.  But would millions of companies continue to spend billions of dollars on advertisements and headhunters if they truly accounted for a mere 10-20% of all the hiring out there?  It seems to me we’ve let the networking statistic creep up on us over the years to the point where it’s gotten inflated out of proportion — since it just doesn’t seem possible (and the poll results prove it) that this method alone has completely crowded out the other two traditional job-finding methods.  Again, with over 40% of the poll respondents reporting that they got their last job through a published lead or staffing firm, these channels are nothing to sneeze at.  Don’t ignore them as a possible source for finding work and don’t buy into the zealots out there saying that “nobody gets jobs through ads anymore” or “recruiters are a waste of time and will jerk you around — avoid them.”

So there you have it.  Some hard and fast data on how most people are getting hired these days.  Is this survey infallible?  No.  Would it pass scrutiny in an academic journal?  Hell no.  But hey, at least it’s something concrete that can give us a better glimpse at this important subject!  Again, your comments and observations welcome…

As for the coming month?  You’ll find my latest LinkedIn poll question here, asking: “Aside from typos, what is the biggest mistake most people make with their resumes?”