Networking Basics for Regular People
Competition for jobs is fierce but networking is one way of differentiating yourself as a stellar candidate. Recently, I read the e-book, "Stop Job Searching, Start Networking" from Job Bound, a career-services company. According to Job Bound, 66% of all jobs are won through networking, so much of your job-search time should be concentrated on spreading the word about your credentials, in addition to applying for open positions found through publicly available listings (a target company's website, online job boards, craigslist, etc.). Here are some of their tips on networking basics.
Tell people that you are in the job market.
Let your friends, neighbors, family, etc. know about your goals, including the industry, field, or company that you are pursuing. Being specific about your goals, rather than saying you'll do anything, can make it easier for them to help you, and shows that you are taking control of your search.
Network with all contacts, not just senior executives.
At some point, you want to get in touch with a hiring manager who has a need for an individual with your talent; the path to such a manager may or may not be through traditional channels such as the SVP of a division or HR department.
Tap into the career centers.
Go to your local community college (whether you have attended there or not) and your alma mater. The community college may offer assistance with the job search process as well as opportunities for networking with other job seekers, students, and instructors who may have worked or are working in your chosen field. Colleges and universities also enable networking among alumni through LinkedIn groups and local chapters of alumni associations.
Do research before an event.
If you are attending a special networking event or career fair, do some research to learn about those you may be meeting. By having some general knowledge of participants and their companies, you can be prepared to engage them in conversation. Avoid showing that you have too much information but that you are aware of trends in your industry. Bring a business card so that you can exchange contact information for follow-up purposes.
Understand that networking should be mutually beneficial to all involved, so offer assistance when you can. Learning about your contact's needs and sharing your knowledge, contacts, etc. is a great way to offer value to the relationship.
Managing Networking Activities
Keep your contacts organized.
Keep a spreadsheet of your contacts with names, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of meetings/phone calls, points of discussion, etc. In the stress of a job search, you might be surprised at how easily you may forget about who you've met or a next step to pursue. Having this info written down somewhere can help keep you on track.
Arrange informational interviews.
Informational interviews should be a central part of your networking efforts. These sessions can be face-to-face meetings or phone conversations. They are generally casual but still require basic business etiquette so consider paying the bill for coffee (or lunch, depending on your budget) for meetings that you have initiated.
Always send a thank-you note.
Send a thank-you note to those who have taken the time to meet with you. Say thanks, of course, but also remind your contacts about what you hope to accomplish through your networking and job search. A note sent through regular mail can be a nice touch that helps you stand out from those usually sent through email.
Follow up to remind them who you are.
Follow up with your contacts, letting them know about fruitful conversations and keeping them apprised of your progress. You can maintain your networking momentum through periodic updates. Remind them of your needs to improve the likelihood that the the timing of your desire for a certain type of job can coincide with a hiring manager's need for a person with certain qualifications. Plus, some may think that you have found a position or moved in another direction if you don't keep them updated about ;your search.
Join an organization.
Expand your network by volunteering in the community or joining a professional organization. Check out groups before making a long-term commitment. And consider long-term benefits as much as immediate ones, which might include a support system during your search and new skills that can transfer to the workplace.
Don't seem desperate.
Don't cross the line between active networking and seemingly desperate measures. In a phone conversation with the folks at Job Bound, I learned that some job seekers forget that hiring managers have caller ID and may feel leery of contacts who call repeatedly (even if they never leave messages). They also discourage job-searching networkers from just stopping by a workplace unannounced but suggest that even casual meetings should involve scheduling an appointment.
Twitter can help keep your contacts informed about your progress without inundating their email inboxes. Topics for tweets may include daily job search goals (example: "I hope to set up informational interviews with 2 event planners today"), mentions that you've updated your LinkedIn profile, and reviews of books or news articles relevant to your target industry or discipline. You'll give people specific ideas for helping you (example: you can pass along the name of an event-planning friend) and position yourself as deeply engaged in your field.
While you're busy networking, don't neglect spiffing up your resume with awesome accomplishments or preparing for interview questions. In my experience with career-services clients, people land great positions through networking in the midst of active job searches that had been focused on pursuing leads through classified ads, job boards, company websites, etc.
After you start a new job, don't stop networking; keep connecting with people to build collaborations, find new talent for your company, or be considered for those yet-to-be advertised positions when you're ready to make a career move later.
Note: I received a copy of "Stop Job Searching, Start Networking" e-book from Job Bound in exchange for a review.
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