The Most Important Job Search Strategy You May Not Be Using

When you are looking for a new job, you want to use all the tools available to you. And one of the most effective parts of your toolkit is often overlooked: networking.

“Networking can take your strategy to the next level,” said James Marfield, associate director of the national recruiting department at VA. “Most industry experts will say networking is the no. 1 approach to getting a job.

Expand your circle

While it is tempting to rely on applications sent through free online job sites to do the heavy lifting in your job search, “knowing the people in the organization is always very helpful” where you want to work, said Marfield.

“Any time you spend networking is time well spent, whether you are looking for a job or being a happy employee and looking to expand your influence, reach or knowledge of the industry,” said Marfield.

When you apply for a federal job, like the one in the VA, you will find that there are more rules and regulations governing the recruitment process.

But there are no rules against relationship building at VA while you are looking for a job. These connections can be especially useful if you qualify for a Special Hiring Authority or if you are a healthcare professional who can be hired outside of the traditional competitive hiring process.

Make connections

So how do you go about expanding your career network?

If possible, try to establish a connection in person. It is difficult to reproduce this dynamic on a virtual platform.

Consider joining a professional association – especially ones that might include VA employees – or volunteer at a VA medical center or National Cemetery Administration (NCA) cemetery.

LinkedIn is also a great place to connect with professionals in your industry. Many recruiters in the private sector, and some in the federal sector, post jobs on LinkedIn and use it to find talented people with the skills they are looking for.

Learn to know you

Once you’ve found someone to connect with, make sure you approach them correctly. Be yourself, be respectful, and be clear about what you’re looking for without weighing the person down.

For example, you can introduce yourself to a hiring manager or human resources professional who works in a VA medical center. Ask if they have time for a quick chat.

If so, quickly describe your professional references and interests, as well as your goal of being viewed in a non-competitive or competitive manner for current or future employment opportunities. You can also ask them if it’s okay to email them a resume and supporting documents to consider for future positions, but don’t push or sound pushy.

“If the contact responds with apprehension or doesn’t know how to help you, I recommend moving the conversation to his perspective on working at VA and if he can offer advice based on his personal experiences,” said Marfield.

“The key here is to be emotionally intelligent and recognize if you are being too arrogant or taking too long,” he added.

You can also exchange business cards. Consider including your key credentials and the positions you are looking for on the back of your card.

You can follow up with your contact a few weeks later, but don’t be too pushy.

“There’s no magic number here, but a good rule of thumb is to follow up with contacts at least twice,” Marfield said.

Working at VA

There is nothing wrong with increasing your career network at VA. Even if you’re not actively looking for a new job right now, making connections can only help your career.

Brandon D. James