Networking has always been the most effective way to land a new position and social media continues to bring us more efficient ways to build and maintain our networks.
By definition, “networking” just means meeting people through business and social projects and events and nurturing those relationships. Networking is a great way to make new friends and learn more about all kinds of fascinating topics. And for job seekers, networking contacts are also valuable sources of information on job leads and even introductions to hiring managers.
While it may not seem fair that connections are so important in getting hired, the fact remains that more people find job openings through personal contact than any other way.
Tips to Expand Network
Your network can and should contain current and former co-workers, contacts from your school (students, professors, alumni), a wide range of people in your industry, and personal friends. If you have neglected networking in the past, there’s no time like now to get better connected.
1. Take time to socialize.
Your time is far better spent on lunch or coffee with contact than on surfing job listings. In fact, surveys consistently show that 80-85% of job-seekers find work as the result of a referral from a friend or colleague, and only 2-4% of land jobs from Internet job boards.
And this doesn’t only apply to in-person meet-ups! Start getting active with people you see on LinkedIn or in some common groups. For example, if you post regularly on LinkedIn you probably already have a handful of people you talk with in the comments but have never met with. Take the time to set up a coffee chat to get to know them.
If you’re not into LinkedIn, no problem. Most cities have online groups you can join. For example, if you recently moved to Paris you could look through the “Women in Paris” group to find people in your industry you could drab a coffee (or a glass of wine) with.
2. Don’t be shy.
If you feel like you don’t have much of a network, you’re not trying hard enough. Sit down and make a list of all of the people you know (or know of through a close connection) who might be able to offer useful career advice. Challenge yourself to think beyond your comfort zone.
If you hate networking, you may feel awkward about reaching out to that passing acquaintance you met once or the guy you worked with four years ago. However, a casual note via email or LinkedIn isn’t very risky (so what if he doesn’t write back?) and could lead to a great relationship. (Note: See Use the Network below for more on how to reach out to those in your network for advice).
3. Treat people like human beings, not walking job leads.
This should be obvious, but most people don’t enjoy being used. When you meet someone new or reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in a while, focus on connecting as human beings first. Be natural and don’t try too hard to sell yourself. The best way to connect with someone is to show interest in them and listen. Even better, offer something of value to the person you meet (suggest a restaurant, recommend a book, offer expert advice). Sure, it would be great if they could help you out at some point down the line. However, nobody wants to be pals with a tiresome opportunist.
4. Mix and mingle.
Attending organized events is another way to expand your network. Join professional/industry/alumni groups and attend the events most likely to attract interesting people. You’ll also be able to find intriguing lectures, seminars, parties, fundraisers, and other events through LinkedIn, Facebook, or MeetUp. Intimidated by the idea of cruising a networking event by yourself? See below.
5. Team up.
Recruit a friend to join you if it makes you more comfortable, but don’t spend the evening in a corner talking to the one person you already know. Introduce yourself to at least 3 new people at every event. If you go with a friend, work together to work the room and introduce each other to interesting people that you meet.
6. Expand your horizons.
Don’t limit yourself to just networking within your industry. Getting to know your hairdresser makes sense even if you don’t want a job cutting hair, because she knows so many people. Hairdressers are often the first to hear about coming changes that lead to open positions. We all know people who are natural connectors — they throw the best parties and have the best stories. They also LOVE to make introductions to help out their friends.
7. Don’t forget your business card.
Business cards seem a bit old-school, but they’re your passport to networking. Have a business card prepared that provides your contact information and a brief description of what you do, and be sure to have plenty on hand if attending an event. However, it’s more important to collect business cards than to distribute them. Make sure that you have contact information so that you can reach out and continue the dialogue after the event.
Tips to Make Use of Your Network
People in your network will be able to help you with your job search, but you must be mindful of how you approach them.
8. Ask for advice, not a job or a favor.
Start by requesting a brief meeting, phone call, or even a coffee chat to ask the person’s advice about career opportunities in the industry. Make it clear that your goal is not to beg for a job. This is particularly important when reaching out to people who don’t know you very well yet.
However, almost everybody is happy to provide advice if you make it easy for them and ask nicely (see below). If you make a great impression, your contact is much more likely to think of you when they become aware of a new opportunity.
9. Schedule informational interviews.
With contacts working in your field or at a target company, you may want to ask for a more formal informational interview. Follow our advice on how to ask for an informational interview and then take the time to prepare for your informational interview to make the best possible impression.
(You can also use some nifty tools to export leads from LinkedIn for people in certain industries to reach out to, but remember to be humble, polite, and not make demands on their time or knowledge.)
And if you need to cancel an interview, learn how to do it here.
10. Ask for a job referral.
If you find out about an opening at a contact’s company or former company, reach out to see if your contact has advice on the best way to apply. If you’re lucky (and have done your groundwork by showing that you’re a strong candidate), your contact may offer to pass your information along to the right person and bypass the resume black hole of unscreened applicants. This can make all of the difference in getting you to the interview stage. Remember that this is a big favor — your contact will be putting his or her reputation on the line to vouch for you with coworkers. Make it as easy as possible for them by demonstrating that you will make them look good if recommended.
11. Ask for a job reference or a LinkedIn recommendation.
Everybody needs strong references to land a job offer. Make sure that you stay connected to the former bosses and coworkers that you want to use as references. After all, memories fade and you want your reference giver to be able to speak glowingly about all of your good points. It’s also a good idea to ask for LinkedIn recommendations from people who know you and your work well. Good recommendations can help your LinkedIn profile stand out.
And an added bonus to these is that in some cases your ex-colleagues might even share their experience working with you publicly on LinkedIn or in industry-relevant groups.
12. Look for ways to return the favors.
Remember that networking is about mutual support, not just other people doing you favors. Stay alert for opportunities to help others. Ask them about what they’re working on and find ways to lend a hand — invite a contact to an interesting networking event, pass on the phone number of that reliable contractor or genius dermatologist, or just send a book or article about a topic of interest. And if someone asks YOU to pass a resume along or offer job-search advice, remember that you’re paying it forward!
Tips to Keep Your Network Thriving
13. Be grateful.
Most people are thrilled to help out their contacts if they know the effort is appreciated. Let your networking contacts know when their efforts have paid off on your behalf (through connecting with someone they introduced you to, landing an interview, or eventually getting a job offer) and thank them warmly. Thank them with lunch or dinner if you can. Be sure to send thank-you notes after you accept a position (and check out 5 things to consider before you accept an offer).
14. Keep a long-term view.
Don’t expect business and social networking to be a quick fix for your job search. It can take time for relationship-building efforts to pay off. You need to put in the effort to get to know people and trust that you will see results from it.
15. Stay connected.
Even after you’ve landed a new gig and are happily employed, make efforts to stay in touch with your contacts. Above all, don’t ever stop networking. Remember, networking is not just about finding a job. Your contacts can be very helpful to you in other aspects of your career and your life. And if and when it’s time to start job hunting again, you will have a strong network to back you up.