Networking still the best job-hunting tool

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Q. I work at a large company as a middle-level manager. I recently had to lay off many of the employees that work for me. Our company seems to do this almost every year if we don’t make our numbers. I have a very stable employment background and a strong record of performance. I noticed an online job posting that looks perfect for me at a more stable competitor. I have a few professional contacts at this company. Should I just apply through the job posting? I am afraid that my job search may become public and my current employer may find out.

A. Being part of layoff can be draining. Even if you have retained your position, many “survivors” feel less than satisfied in a post-layoff environment. Having to communicate layoff decisions can become particularly grueling if you have had little input or if it becomes a common business practice at your employer. In some industries, reducing headcount is a more common occurrence than others.

Networking is a powerful job-hunting tool. It is better to become introduced to a company through a current employee or other personal contact than to submit your resume in response to an online posting. Smart companies often rely on their current employees to help them recruit new employees through referral programs. An employee referral program encourages current workers to refer qualified candidates to their current employer. Often the employee is rewarded with some type of incentive. Employee referrals are a pre-screened applicant pool since most employees would not refer an unqualified candidate for an open position at their company.

Having a professional contact at the competitive firm is an advantage. I would encourage you to contact your most trusted and well-respected personal contact there. Explain to this contact you are very interested in an opportunity the company has recently posted. Ask them to please be discreet with your candidacy. Also ask if they would be willing to submit your resume to the appropriate internal decision-makers. Try to get the specific names and titles of the decision-makers.

Being referred by a current employee separates you from the many online candidates submitting their resumes via a job posting application process.  Regardless of whether you receive a job offer, remember to write a note of thanks to your professional contact if this person was helpful.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.