Career climbers, rejoice!
Those tedious hours of networking - the glad-handing, backslapping, and "let's do lunch" - are on the wane.
In their place, the mighty mouse.
The Internet is quickly rising as a vital tool in career networking. Services on the World Wide Web make it much easier to cross the vast cosmos of cyberspace data in search of contacts.
"There has been incredible growth in the use of the Internet for career networking," says Jennifer Fausti, who works in career services at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Like other universities, Northwestern initiates many employer/employee matches via the Internet.
"With your computer and modem you can do virtual networking without sifting through lists of thousands of people," says Ted Kamionek of Firefly Network, an Internet service in Cambridge, Mass.
The free or inexpensive services do not replace the human contact vital to moving a career forward. "We have found that while technology has accelerated the screening process, it has not replaced the need for face time," says Kathy Sims, director of the career center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Moreover, until the majority of professionals are fully "wired," the Internet is more reinforcement than replacement to standard networking, say experts.
But Internet services clear away some of the underbrush between you and the person with a career-making insight or job.
The Internet services connect you to career-enhancing sources based on a detailed profile. They also offer chat forums to exchange ideas about professions, contacts, and advancement.
A new Web site called Sixdegrees (www.sixdegrees.com) is perhaps the most single-minded networking service. It is founded on the theory that every person is connected to everyone one else on earth through a path of six people or fewer.
When a member of Sixdegrees identifies the type of person she wants to meet, the service tells her the name of someone she knows who knows a person of that type. This is useful, for example, for a newcomer to a city searching for someone with a particular expertise.
Also, when a member identifies a person by name, Sixdegrees can help identify someone they know in common, a useful aid before interviewing a prospective employer.
In order to join Sixdegrees and build up the service's skein of contacts, you must provide your name, primary e-mail address, gender, location, and occupation. You are also asked to provide names and basic data from at least two other people.
Firefly (www.firefly.com) constructs detailed profiles of its members and then suggests to them different movies, music, and opportunities in other fields based on the preferences of its like-minded members.
Firefly attracts advertisers by revealing members' consumer preferences - but not their identities.
It builds a faithful following and a sense of community by allowing members to locate peers, engage in chat sessions, and launch their own Web pages.
"What you find on the Web right now is a tremendous volume of information, or what we refer to as the 'neutron bomb effect.' There is a lot of information out there but no people," Mr. Kamionek says.
Firefly has attracted 3 million members since its launch 18 months ago, says Kamionek. It also profits by licensing its "intelligent agent" software to the likes of Barnes & Noble, Reuters New Media, and Yahoo.
JOBTRAK Inc., a service that has grown largely by matching employers to college graduates, last month launched a career forum that is booming. The service (www.jobtrak.com) allows networkers to meet contacts by modem.
"The response is fantastic," says Ken Ramberg, vice president of JOBTRAK in Los Angeles. He says the service attracts an average of 25,000 visitors a day.