By Laura Raines, for the AJC
“In today’s market, networking is more critical than ever to your career success,” said Mike Seagraves, vice president and director of marketing at Integrity Wealth Management Inc., a financial management firm in Roswell. “About 90 percent of all jobs are found through networking.”
Your network is your ticket to the hidden job market — those opportunities that don’t get posted because they are filled internally, by recruiters or through employee referrals. Seagraves advises workers to develop their networks through nonprofit groups, professional associations and business or social contacts, in his free, bi-monthly workshop, “Mastering Executive Job Change.”
He created the crash course in career transitions in 2001, and has helped more than 4,000 people. Many churches and nonprofit organizations (such as Crossroads Career Network and Job Seekers) offer job networking groups in the Atlanta area.
More groups are forming due to the tough economy. They offer a variety of services including emotional support, career counseling, resume help, interview coaching and networking contacts.
“There are a lot of professional people who are volunteering their time and expertise to help others find jobs. The groups vary in scope, methods and size, so there is a fit for almost everyone. The challenge is to find them,” said Seagraves.
One night Seagraves drove through rain to find a new networking group. He got lost, finally located the right room of the mega-church only to find no one there.
“That was a turning point for me,” he said. “I thought that there had to be a better way for people to find out about job networking groups,” he said.
With colleagues Bob and Karen Hayllar, Seagraves spent 18 months creating a Web site that would make it easy to search for networking groups in Atlanta.
“We aspired to be a central resource that would benefit job seekers as well as church and nonprofit groups, who usually have no marketing budget to promote their services, meetings and events,” said Seagraves.
Launched in May, www.JobNetworkingCenter.com has already had more than 7,000 hits.
“The site is free. We don’t allow advertising and while any group can go to the ‘Add My Group’ template to include its information, we’ll check it out to make sure it’s a legitimate networking group,” he said.
A sister site, www.Job ChangeCenter.com, advertises services and products for job changers and helps to support the networking site. Viewers can search the event calendar of JobNetworkingCenter.com to see what career-related events or meetings are happening on a particular day.
They can also use the metro-Atlanta map function to find a networking group close to home. Clicking on a virtual push-pin will bring up a group’s contact information, a link to their personal information page and a link for directions.
“Knowing that these groups are all different, we invite them to describe themselves and to keep their information updated,” he said. “Many people don’t know where to begin when it comes to networking, which is what makes this Web site so valuable,” said Nancy Dybowski, an IT business management specialist and former facilitator of Women’s C3G (Christ Centered Career Group), which addresses the special needs for women job seekers and changers.
“Now that they can see that there are groups all over the city — meeting at all different times, people should have no excuse for not taking the first step toward networking,” she said. Dybowski found the Women’s C3G group while job hunting in June 2008, and has seen it grow from a handful of women to 50 members at meetings and 125 on the Yahoo network group.
“We help women utilize their faith—it doesn’t matter which one—and give them the tools and confidence to move forward in their careers,” Dybowski said.
The group shares encouragement, search tips and job leads and hosts guest speakers.
“We were growing even before the economy got so bad, and now we’re seeing women come to Alpharetta from as far as Peachtree City and Gainesville,” she said. “I’m consistently hearing of more networking groups starting and that’s good, because there is great need out there.”
Free, nonprofit groups fill the gap for unemployed workers who can’t afford a career coach or to join a professional organization.
“The professionals helping with these groups and workshops deserve so much credit for what they are doing. Taking time to help someone work through a job loss or evaluate resumes is so valuable. Everyone needs to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Dybowski said.