Now that the economy is starting to pick up, news of companies relocating to Cobb County and nearby areas are more prominent every day, and for residents that are still in the thick of the often-dreaded job search, networking is more important now than ever. With resources like LinkedIn, online self-promotion and marketing are certainly more prevalent and utilized than in recent years, but few efforts can really make an applicant stand out more than personal professional referrals—that’s where community networking comes into play.
The Coalition of Cobb County Business Associations, which comprises of 10 area business associations—Austell, Acworth, East Cobb, Kennesaw, Marietta, Northeast Cobb, Smyrna, South Cobb, Vinings and West Cobb—offers an advantage to residents in the form of networking events and training, because sometimes the key to finding and securing the right job for you really is all about who you know. For Chuck Burge, who serves as membership chair with the Marietta Business Association, “The only way to improve your chances is to leave the comfort of your computer search for a job and be seen. No matter how well your resume is put together, it is just paper.”
Barbara Hickey with the Cobb Coalition agrees, saying that in such a competitive job atmosphere, business owners, corporations and members of the nonprofit community are relying on recommendations before they take the leap and hire a new member of the team. “Hiring the wrong person, who does not fit with the pace, demand or overall atmosphere, can be a costly mistake,” Hickey says. “You never know where your next job, client or idea may come from. When you build relationships with people you share your plans, skills and other personal information that may spark an idea that they suggest.”
For Bonnie Ross-Parker of Xperience Connections, formerly The Joy of Connecting, “The trust building and relationship building is significantly increased when you have face-to-face opportunities. It’s not just about the body language and the eye contact; you just get a feel for somebody when you have the opportunity to shake a hand.” With so many opportunities around Cobb to go out and meet other professionals and expand your network, the time has come to utilize the tools and people available to you.
Go Beyond the Web
Personal websites, online portfolios and LinkedIn profiles have the ability to make a big impact when searching for a job, either positive or negative. For prospective employers, credibility is everything in a new hire. When networking, if a person can feel the credibility and value you bring, the degree to which they can potentially further you in your job search deepens significantly.
“Sometimes it’s just being visible, letting people know what you’re looking for, showing up in a way that is very professional—those are the kinds of things that I think can really help an individual find a position much different than just filling out a piece of paper online. That’s not nearly as effective as really having a referral from someone else,” says Ross-Parker.
“It is an opportunity for a live interview without having to go through the process of scheduling one with a difficult-to-reach owner or HR person,” Burge adds. “The more people you meet face to face, the better your opportunity to be known—and when you are known, you create referrals for yourself. When you are referred, you are walking in warm, not cold. Plus, you never know when you may walk up to the person that needs exactly what your skill set provides.”
Many networking professionals agree that social media can help as easily as it can hurt. For Burge, resources like LinkedIn can work if you are aggressive and ask for recommendations to meet the people you connect with. “Posting is permanent. It can hurt you if you haven’t established some credibility throughout your online communication,” Ross-Parker says. “In the job search arena, the degree to which individuals post content and information of value that clearly demonstrates their expertise is a great way for somebody to land a potential opportunity. The same is true in the reverse.”
Cobb’s Networking Resources
The Marietta Business Association, like many area groups, has several opportunities for networking, including Networking Opportunity Weekly (NOW) and NetEx, an expo held the second Monday of every month, complete with a meet and greet where the key to success is always getting involved. “The idea is to put you in front of that person for a cup of coffee or lunch and to be there for the introduction,” Burge says. “Through that process, you have helped two people meet someone new that might further their business. That is powerful.” Additionally, members can take part in monthly after-hours events and Business & Biscuits.
The Cobb Coalition also brings together 10 business associations that promote networking events every month, where you can attend as a guest and meet business owners, public officials and government personnel alike. Hickey addresses The Etiquette School of Atlanta as another prime resource for helping to level the job playing field. “After our classes from Making A Good First Impression to Dining Etiquette, we send off our students of all ages with the confidence to handle interviews, difficult people, conflict resolution and just make a difference wherever they are,” she says.
Ross-Parker’s Xperience Connections is open to all women for an intimate meeting once a month, as space allows. “I don’t want any woman who is truly committed to a professional or entrepreneurial endeavor to go through what I went through and not be taken seriously,” she says, having worked in networking for more than 30 years. She started hosting events at Atlanta Bread Co. for several years without charging a fee before starting her organization, The Joy of Connecting, which was officially 11 years old last August. The first event was held in her home in 2002, and since then more than 3,500 women have participated. The program has never changed. Everyone walks away with solid opportunities for growth, and every woman gets the chance to showcase, distribute content, promote what they do and talk about their endeavors.
“On any one day at any one time, Atlanta is so robust in terms of opportunities for women and networking in general,” says Ross-Parker. “For a woman to start a business here or make connections to foster opportunities is pretty significant. I think women deserve and have earned the right to be respected, appreciated, valued for the contributions they make in their communities.”