Dear Dave: I have been with my company for two years. I want to move up in the chain of command and get a better paying role. I know I have the skills to be a good leader. But every time I apply for a management job, I get shot down right away. My resume is strong, and I can interview well. What is missing? How can I land a better job? – W:

Dear W: Your inability to obtain the employment you want is difficult to face and quite humbling. It is rough to be passed over for a job, especially when you have the skills and experience to do the job well. I think everyone reading this knows what I mean and realizes how frustrating it is to even get their foot in the door for an interview.

The ability to bounce back from employment setbacks is often described as the difference between successful and unsuccessful people. But how do you build that resilience? Research shows that it comes down to the people in your network: you need relationships that support you in securing new opportunities.

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So, think about what you need in these tough times and who can help you achieve those needs. You don’t want to come across like you are manipulating people and using your relationships only for your own selfish desires, but I believe if your relationships are strong enough, those that are colleagues, mentors, or friends will probably be happy to help you. And I believe that people in your network are more likely to help you if you are genuine and sincere and are not an opportunist “hit and run networker.”

Then, consider your total network. Identify who you go to when you're down or in a rut and ask yourself if these folks can – or even want to – reach out and help you. If they won’t, who else might be able to help? The pandemic has caused a significant amount of uncertainty and challenges for us all and the importance of building and maintaining connections has never been clearer.

Also, be prepared to help others with their career aspirations – especially when they need a job to support their families. If you can be of help to your friends or colleagues, then make sure to do so. They will not forget what you did for them, and they will stick by you through thick and thin. I truly believe there is nothing more rewarding than helping others when they are having difficulties in their lives. If you want to feel good, do good!

Growing through knowing

I think leadership is more art than science – it’s a people business and one that is enhanced by reaching out and helping those around you to succeed. People who cannot – or will not – build strong relationships will not succeed as leaders. The choice is theirs. The saying, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know” may be more realistic than we think.

Personal connections with managers, coworkers, and even customers lead to increased employee engagement and performance … and employment. However, one study shows that only 5 percent of the workers surveyed strongly agree that their organization helps them build stronger personal relationships – in short, the important need for connections is not being met at many workplaces.

Networking is nothing more than getting to know people and letting them know who you are and what you can do – and what you can do for them. Whether you realize it or not, you’re already networking every day and everywhere you go. You’re networking when you strike up a conversation with the person next to you in line, introduce yourself to other parents at your child’s school, meet a friend of a friend, catch up with a former co-worker, or stop to chat with your neighbor. Everyone you meet can help you move your job search forward.

Networking is the best way to find a job, because resumes and cover letters alone are often too impersonal to convince employers to hire you. Networking leads to information and job leads, often before a formal job description is created or a job is announced.

You may think that you don’t know anyone who can help you with your job search. But you know more people than you think, and there’s a very good chance that at least a few of these people know someone else who can give you career advice or point you to a job opening. You’ll never know if you don’t reach out and ask!

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu. Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.