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March 10, 2009

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"I tell my clients that 15 percent of jobs are filled through the newspaper, 5 percent are filled through companies like mine, and 80 percent are filled through word-of-mouth," says Beth Anrig, the owner of Beth Anrig and Associates, a job placement service in Connecticut. Anrig places individuals in positions in a wide variety of industries, ranging from banking to publishing. "Do you know how most jobs are filled?" Anrig asks. "A manager asks a couple of people if they know anyone good."

We've moved past the point where we expect that jobs will be mainly filled through company recruiting and advertising. According to widely-cited statistics, 75 to 80 percent of all job-seekers find their new position through referrals; most openings never see the light of day (or newsprint). By schmoozing, you make word-of-mouth work in your favor. You can learn about a variety of industries and make friends and contacts whom you can call upon for career advice or assistance. Now how to do it?

Before Tamara Totah found her present position as a headhunter with the search firm The Oxbridge Group, she investigated career options in a variety of fields, the music industry among them. "I told everyone until it was coming out of their ears," she says. Her first meeting was with a friend of a friend who did marketing at Warner Music. Next, she met with a contact who worked at a radio station. Soon she was going to music parties.

"It just kept going and going," Totah says. This classic schmoozing effort doesn't have the usual happy ending of the heroine finding a job, but to hear Totah talk about it, investigating the music world was far from a waste. She says she stopped pursuing the field, because "I realized that the music industry was vile. But for a while, I was going to every concert that came into town."

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When you're schmoozing for a job, the first step is to bring up the fact that you're looking. Ron Nelson, a career transition counselor in Connecticut, says "You can mention it to the guy you buy the newspaper from, or someone you always see when you're pumping gas. As long as they know your name and to say hi to you, they become someone you should talk to. You should talk to everyone. You should talk to people even when you have no idea why you are talking to them. This is a very small world, and everyone knows someone." The easiest way to get to the subject is simply to ask people what they do for a living. After telling you, they are likely to likewise inquire "And what do you do?" That's your opportunity to talk about your job search.

The same is true when it comes to bringing up the subject with friends and acquaintances. "First, ask them what they're up to career-wise," Anrig advises. "They'll tell you, and then ask "How about you?" Then you can talk about what you want." But if you ever feel uncomfortable about talking about your career plans while schmoozing, don't. Schmoozing should never make you, or anyone, else uncomfortable. If you keep in touch with the people you schmooze (and you should!), the right opportunity will arise soon enough. At the same time, if you're comfortable with it, don't be afraid of repeating yourself: Anrig admits you might feel like a broken record, "but people might need to hear your story once or twice before they start thinking about how they can help you."

If you keep in touch with people, and let them know you're looking, they're bound to remember you when they hear of something. Erik Jorgensen, a product manager at Microsoft who has helped bring four friends to the software giant, keeps a "mental rolodex of the folks I know, and what I think their strengths are. When I hear of something, or if I'm asked if I know of anyone, I'll let the appropriate people know."

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