Professional Networks

The adage "it's not what you know, it's who you know" is very true when talking about the job market. And that proves to be a problem for African-Americans and other people of color who are currently seeking jobs.

In a recent blog for, researcher Nancy DiTomaso, a professor at Rutgers Business School, said that social networks -- not to be confused with social networking -- are contributing to the high rate of unemployment of blacks (currently at about 13 percent) because social and economic resources have always been more concentrated among whites. Therefore, people of color who lack access to white social networks are at an inherent disadvantage when looking for jobs.

Take two college graduates with similar levels of education and merit. The college graduate who grew up in a network of racial and economic privilege has an automatic advantage over the graduate who didn't. Without even actively looking for a job, well-connected workers already have built-in access to contacts that can provide inside information on job openings, put in a good word on their behalf or even hire them outright.

As a solution and to get more people working, many experts are now stressing the importance of virtual networking through services like Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook as a supplement -- not a replacement -- to old-fashioned personal contact. Joining professional associations and participating in their workshops, meetings and other activities puts you in contact with mentors and colleagues who may help you find a job or point you toward resources and tools to help advance your career. While workers typically join professional associations after they've already got their foot in the door, these organizations can also help job-seekers.

When the opportunity arises, take visible leadership roles to coordinate gatherings and discussions focused on bringing professional colleagues together. Being seen in any type of leadership role by your peers will help push your career forward.

It's also important not to overlook black professional organizations in your field. Using black professional organizations in conjunction with professional associations and virtual networks provides opportunities that can assist in bridging the racial employment divide and disparities in professional networks.