The Network Way to a Better Job - the technique and benefits of business networking; includes information on job-search clubs

The Network Way to a Better Job - the technique and benefits of business networking; includes information on job-search clubsThe wider the web you spread, the better your chances of success.

Career counselors proclaim it as gospel: Networking--making contacts with a widespread web of people who might be able to help you--is the key to a successful job search. Though the concept may conjure up images of smarmy backslapping and insincere glad-handing, you needn't stoop so low. Just ask Larry Sisel, who credits networking with getting him from out of work to the executive suite in only four months.

"Once I focused on my job search, I went hard to work networking," says Sisel, 47, now the chief financial officer of Laidlaw Transit Services, in Overland Park, Kan. "I called friends, neighbors, business contacts, bankers, lawyers, public accountants--you name it. I probably had 300 resumes out within six weeks." The flurry of activity not only calmed Sisel, it actually worked: "I got several interviews and a lot of leads," he says.

You say you don't know 300 people, or even a couple of dozen who might assist you in finding a job? Neither did Sisel. But that didn't stop him from casting a broad net. The job he landed came from a direct contact at the company, but he was also considered for positions he had heard about through one, two and three degrees of separation--that is, he learned of the opening from someone who had been tipped off by someone else who had heard about it.

Clearly, for job hunters who don't have bulging Rolodexes, the most daunting aspect of networking can be where to begin. Once you've asked all of your acquaintances for leads, use these methods to expand your spectrum of contacts:

NETWORKING AND JOB-SEARCH CLUBS. Exec-U-Net (800-637-3126;, which Larry Sisel joined after leaving his previous job, holds monthly networking meetings in major cities around the country, posts jobs (generally paying $100,000 or more) daily on a members-only Web site and offers newsletters on topics such as career management and job-search strategies. Three-, six- and 12-month memberships cost from $125 to $325. Networking meetings cost around $25 each; nonmembers can attend for about $30. Members of the Five O'Clock Club (212-286-4500; www.50 get career counseling with their networking. Prices vary by city, but an average membership costs $225 for five hourlong sessions (or $400 for ten), plus a $35 annual membership fee and about $30 for books and other materials. One drawback to the Five O'Clock Club is that turnout may be slim in start-up chapters. For example, a recent Washington, D.C., gathering drew only four people. Forty Plus (212-233-6086) operates 20 cooperative chapters in metropolitan areas nationwide; programs and membership fees vary widely by location. As the name implies, its services are geared toward older job hunters. The success of these clubs depends in part on large attendance, which enhances your chances of running into someone in your field. But all the groups expect their members to help each other--for instance, a journalist who knows a lawyer, an engineer and an accountant would be considered a source of contacts for an engineer. So the networking may be diluted but can still pay off. PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS. For the cost of an annual membership fee (usually $50 to a few hundred dollars, which your employer might even pick up), a professional association will give you access to hundreds of contacts through regular meetings and conventions. Becoming active on the local level could be even more valuable than joining a networking club because you're guaranteed to meet the "right" people. Members of the Special Libraries Association, for example, pay $125 annually to join one of 56 regional chapters, which meet monthly. SLA's Web site contains a members-only job database and networking chat rooms. And at its annual convention, which draws 7,000 people, the association hosts an employment clearinghouse--at a separate hotel--where job seekers can talk privately to potential employers. To find a national or local association, crack the three-volume Encyclopedia of Associations, available at most libraries, or search the Gateway to Associations at Networking for Everyone!, by L. Michelle Tullier (Jist Works, $16.95; 800-547-8872) lists a broad sample of national associations alongside extensive job-search advice. ALUMNI GROUPS. Sure, football games tend to dominate their activities, but alumni associations offer participants a casual, local network when it's job-search time. The University of Iowa Alumni Association's Twin Cities chapter, for example, recently held a social hour to give its members a shameless opportunity to network. Some universities split their alumni chapters into subgroups for the different schools, such as engineering or business; they mimic professional associations with the added tie of rooting for the same team. Even for graduates who don't have time for social events, alumni-group Web sites link individuals from around the country and often post proprietary job listings. The University of Iowa's site includes a job-search message board and the Career Information Network, which puts job seekers in touch with other alumni in their field. Calling all headhunters All is not lost if you think that networking is just too much trouble. Like Hollywood actors who wait tables while they wait to be discovered, some people looking for corporate jobs hope that a headhunter--the casting agent of the non-Tinseltown set--will call and say, "You're the one." The newest version of an annual guide makes that hope a bit more realistic. The Directory of Executive Recruiters 1999 (Kennedy Information, $44.95; 800-531-0007) is a vital tool if you want to mail letters of introduction to the headhunters most likely to work with you. A 1,360-page tome, it lists 6,143 offices, indexed by industry, job function, geographical location and more. An accompanying CD-ROM, Kennedy's 1999 Career Resource Kit, includes a searchable version of the book's contents. It costs an extra $150 to activate the search tool (you call with a credit card number to receive a password). Pricey, yes, but the features that let you prepare letters and mailing labels for an unlimited number of recruiters might make it worth the investment. Reporter: Sean O'Neill RELATED ARTICLE: Sacking signing bonuses JAKE PLUMMER may have run the ultimate quarterback sneak when he signed his four-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals in late December. That's because under one of President Clinton's budget proposals, signing bonuses like Plummer's--at $15 million, the biggest in NFL history--could be more highly taxed in the future. Another proposal, though, would let stars leave their companies with a bit more in their pockets. Currently, if a bonus is not tied directly to an employee's future work--that is, if it's not predicated on the new employee staying with the company a certain amount of time or meeting stated performance goals--it is not considered "wages." That means there's no income-tax withholding and the payment avoids social security and medicare taxes. Clinton's proposal would nail such bonuses with a flat 28% withholding rate and impose social security and medicare taxes. This year the 6.2% social security levy stops when income passes $72,600, but the 1.45% medicare tax applies to all wages. Hmmmm, 1.45% of $15 million equals $217,500. A second proposal takes a munificent approach to another type of lump-sum payment: the severance package. For people who leave a job with a hunk of cash during 2000, 2001 or 2002, Clinton's plan would make up to the first $2,000 tax-free. The catch: Recipients may not take a new job paying 95% or more of their old salaries within six months, and the total severance package must be $75,000 or less.