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Network your way to a top-tier job

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Higher education may prepare you for a career, but networking will get you the job.

Thomas Clerkin, an associate professor in the IUPUC Division of Business, said that’s the most important lesson he communicates to students.

“Talented people can and will continue to be in demand and figuring out how to structure your job search to tap into opportunities is what I work on with my students,” Clerkin said. “Whether there is a third-party search firm involved or someone is calling friends at a company he might be interested in, networking has always been the way people get these jobs.”

Clerkin’s recently published book “Executive Search Relationships Impact Careers in Multiple Ways,” looks at the role recruiters, often referred to as headhunters, play in the job market.

Search firms are a great big part of the job market that no one in academia had ever researched or studied to understand the theory or implications of that function, Clerkin said.

He spent three decades as a senior-level human resources executive with companies such as Arvin industries and Adobe Air. He founded IUPUC’s Executive Education program and served as its first director.

Clerkin teaches courses on leadership, career success, entrepreneurship, business policy and strategic human resources for undergraduate business students and graduate MBA students.

It was his research for the doctoral program that prompted Scholars’ Press to contact him about publishing his findings in book form.

“It is the first large-scale empirical study of the search industry and how it affects career incomes,” Clerkin said. “The short of it is that we determined that people who have stronger relationships with search firms have three distinct advantages on career incomes. They end up making more over their careers, they are promoted more often, and they are more satisfied with their careers than people who haven’t had good, positive relationships with a search firm.”

Clerkin’s advice to his students goes beyond sharing his research about employment recruiters.

“Some jobs get filled responding to newspaper advertising or online job postings, and a percentage of jobs get filled on the job boards,” Clerkin said. “The chance of getting a job through one of them is small because they may have several thousand to tens-of-thousands of respondents.”

A lot of employers use what Clerkin calls a pull system to aid in the hiring process, which is essentially having someone who already works at a company making a recommendation.

“Often the way to get in is by knowing somebody on the inside,” Clerkin said. “They know where the openings are internally and they have credibility and hopefully, a good reputation. The likelihood of that résumé being looked at is significantly greater than one sent through a blind ad or through the formal application process.”

While many of his students are relatively new to the workforce, Clerkin said most already have a potential network to tap into, even if they don’t realize it.

“If we look at the important senior-level people in our lives who have been successful, most of us can think of neighbors or friends that fit the criteria,” Clerkin said. “My advice is to call them or write them a letter or an email and ask if you can come in and talk to them about your career.”

There may be some who decline the request, but Clerkin said he always found it satisfying when younger people asked him for career guidance. In addition to the good advice, it is another way to let someone in an influential position know that you are serious about your career, he says.

There is a shortage of top-tier talent that Clerkin said will only increase as baby boomers continue to leave the workforce.

Younger people and even more experienced workers who position themselves for career advancement now will find a wealth of opportunities in the next several years.

Clerkin also emphasizes the importance of civic engagement in developing a network of contacts. He said employers value people who are involved in their communities and it doesn’t necessarily matter how they engage.

“The people who are involved in those boards of the volunteer community groups are often senior level executives; powerful important people in the community,” Clerkin said. “They may either want to work with you directly or they may drop your name to someone they know.”

There is no magic formula to land a dream job, but Clerkin said developing a multi-tiered strategy that includes networking as a priority greatly increases the odds.

“At a minimum it’s a tiebreaker, and why wouldn’t you do anything you can to improve your chances,” Clerkin said.

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