We have all heard that networking is key in getting a job. But what is a network? How do I identify who’s in it? And how do you actually do it?
• What is a network? According to thebalancecareers.com, a career network is a group of personal contacts who can assist you in job search, learn about specific jobs /careers, and help you achieve your career goals.
• Who is in your network? I suggest that you already have a network; you just have to realize it. Your network can include friends, relatives, parents of children’s friends, parents and relatives of your friends, club members, cousins, neighbors, current and previous co-workers and managers, suppliers, professional association contacts, your community contacts (civic leaders, clergy, etc.), and your doctor, financial advisor, or attorney. The above is just a starting point—your network is everywhere you are!
• What’s next? Make a list of people and their contact information. If you think your list isn’t long enough, you can expand it in a number of ways:
– Attend networking events (for example, those hosted by your professional organization, Chamber of Commerce, and tips groups). Attend association meetings and take advantage of educational opportunities.
– Work as a volunteer. For example, in your industry association, the Membership Committee is a great place to start. The Program Committee (that plans events) or the Finance Committee (that helps line up sponsors) can also be good choices. Getting involved in any organization is beneficial. Volunteering is one of the best ways to network your way to new contacts.
– Participate in an online community. This can be a social networking site like Facebook or LinkedIn, an alumni site (like Classmates.com), or your trade association’s website (which might have an elist or message board to connect members).
– Contact your alumni groups. Your college or university should have an alumni association (often with a directory of members) that can be useful. You can mine the directory for contacts in your field, even if they didn’t graduate in the same year as you. Your alma mater connects you.
– Read your local business journal to find out about growing companies. Pay particular attention to the “People” section (the section that highlights promotions and new hires at companies) and see if there are any contacts you can make.
Record the names and contact information and get to work!
• How to network. While you can reach out to everyone in your network to let them know you’re looking for ideas, information, advice, and referrals, it is more effective to take a targeted approach. For example, if you see an advertised opening for a position, go through your network and see who might be able to provide you with access to the hiring manager (or someone else who works at the company), information about that specific company (or the company’s position in the industry), or information about the specific position you’re seeking. You can use your network contact to make an introduction to a hiring manager — either asking them to pass along your résumé to that individual, introducing you directly, or allowing you to use their name when making an initial contact.
Don’t forget about using social media to reach out. LinkedIn is particularly effective in helping you take your existing contacts and leverage them into even more networking opportunities. You can see how you’re connected to a company or another individual using LinkedIn. Use social media to arrange in-person get-togethers. For example, if you make a new contact on LinkedIn, if they are local, arrange to meet them in person. Technology makes networking easier, but face-to-face interaction is still the best way to network.
• Don’t wait until you need a network! If you wait until you need to leverage your network to start one, you’re behind. Here are some keys to using networking effectively;
– You should constantly be building — and strengthening — your connections with your network. One of the easiest ways to do this is using LinkedIn. One of the most effective ways to improve your network, however, is through personal contact. Do something to build your network each and every day, whether that’s sending an email to someone you haven’t talked to in a while, or identifying someone new you want to meet.
– Ask for help. Most people will be happy to help you — but you need to ask!
– Be specific in what you’re asking for. A specific request for assistance (“Does anyone know someone who works in the accounting department at Company or Agency X?”) is more likely to be fulfilled than a general request (“I need a new job! Help!”)
– Prepare for networking. Have business cards made that are strictly for networking. You can have cards made very inexpensively.
– Follow-up. If a networking contact gives you advice, a lead, or information, follow up on that information — and then also get back to that person to let them know how it went.
– “Give to Get.” By helping people who ask you for assistance, your network will be stronger when you need it.
See also, Is There Really a Hidden Job Market?