Making Your Network Work
There may be no more important activity for a successful job search than networking. For many, it can also be one of the most difficult activities. Whether it's a reluctance to ask for help or uncertainty about how to go about it, networking can be tough. But make no mistake, having a good networking strategy can make all the difference in opening doors for your career.
Before jumping into best practices, think about why networking is important. Consider the perspective of the employer. Perhaps it's a recruiter or manager who is overseeing the hiring process. They may post a job and receive tens or even hundreds of applications. What factors are they considering? As a job seeker, you have to always be thinking of ways to influence the process and stand out. Having a referral or recommendation can instantly move you to the top of the list.
Who is my network?
It starts with your contacts. Friends, family, coworkers and former coworkers. Knowing people who can make introductions, referrals or recommendations is obviously a great benefit when you're job searching or trying to get your foot in the door of an organization.
Outside of the people you know, who makes a good networking contact? The ideal contact is someone who is in a position to impact the hiring process for the company you're targeting. That may be the hiring manager, a recruiter or HR representative, or another employee. Sending an introductory email is a great way to reinforce your interest and stand out from the stack. If you don't have contact information or you're not connected on LinkedIn or another social media platform, try to seek out "bridge" contacts. Bridge contacts are those who can introduce you to hiring authorities and others who are closer to the job.
So how do you approach a contact? A well-crafted message is key. Be sure to share your connection if you have one. One of the biggest mistakes in networking is asking the wrong question. Do you know of any openings? Could you keep an eye out for me? Can I send you my resume? These are all friendly questions but not very effective when you are expecting actual follow-up. Ask for advice, expertise, or relevant job or company information. Ask for a meeting. Ask for a referral. Generally, people will offer assistance when they can, but it's important to be direct. It is also very important to be respectful of their time and effort. Be appreciative and always offer your assistance in return. Networking requires reciprocation. Most people will go through a career transition at some point, so be willing to return the favor.
Online or Offline?
There are many networking tools and resources on the internet, but connecting face-to-face, when possible, can really be impactful and energizing. Ask contacts to meet for coffee. Attend Meetups. Attend professional or industry association events. There are many career-related networking groups in most cities. Find the right events or activities that work for you and get out and meet people.
While offline networking is great, it is important to effectively use the online tools that are designed specifically for this purpose. LinkedIn is the biggest and most used platform for professional networking. Spend time growing your network. Reach out to people in your spaces - industry, job function, city. Join groups and engage in discussions. Share your expertise. This is what LinkedIn is for. Be active and make the most of it.
Networking is about making connections and building positive professional relationships. Have a plan, be confident in your presentation, be respectful and reciprocal, and you will find networking fun and incredibly helpful in your job search.