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The Power of Going Local

But such networks don't always have to be the mainstream worldwide services everyone knows about. Local career-related networks can also be key.

Michael Higginbotham was another victim of the collapse of Circuit City, where he had worked as a program manager of Web development. Now he's a senior product manager of platforms at SNL Financial in Richmond. He calls LinkedIn an essential tool in his search, but both he and fellow Circuit City alumni Natalie Wilson expanded their job search via the Virginia Career Network (VCN). This group was started in November by Collins Denny, an account manager at IT consulting company Leading Edge Systems Richmond.

The VCN has a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook and Meetup, where Denny said the VCN is the largest group of unemployed professionals on the service. Meetup promotes regular in-person meetings of groups formed around a common interest. He said about 1,300 members have joined the group, with 500 to 600 being regular, active participants.

Denny said the VCN, while coaching members on the use of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, emphasizes face-to-face networking with short and quick "elevator pitches."

Higginbotham's use of the VCN and services such as LinkedIn echoes a common theme among many IT people who have found new jobs: An initial network contact rarely leads directly to an interview and hiring, but rather fosters communication with individuals who communicate with their own network and so on. Similar to the "six degrees of separation" concept, it's often a case of contacting someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows a person at a company looking to fill a position.

In Higginbotham's case, by expanding his network of contacts and keeping in touch with various recruiters and others in his network, he eventually found four people who had connections to a recruiter for SNL Financial. The process wasn't linear, he said, but rather consisted of "a lot of touch points" spread out through a net of personal and professional associations.

In another similarity with Wilson, he credits a large number of recommendations on his LinkedIn profile for his success. "One of the things I asked all the recruiters to do is to take a look at my recommendations because I think they spoke very strongly about my background, skills and tenacity in getting things done," he said.

He also used LinkedIn as a research tool to investigate his targeted company and people he would be interviewing with.

Don't Spend All Your Time Online

But Higginbotham and others caution not to rely too much on online services. "Contacting people, staying on the phone [is important] -- you can search the job boards all day long but they only work for a small percentage of people," he said.

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