by Leslie Rothman
Networking, simply put, means talking to and interacting with people to make professional connections that help you in your career. Approximately 70% of job changers get their next position through a contact. That means that only 30% find their next job by exclusively responding to postings. Still many people focus primarily on responding to them.
You will make yourself immediately stand out by having someone personally refer or advocate for you whether it’s an advertised or unadvertised opportunity. So, why are people uncomfortable with networking? Many people have trouble calling people they don’t know well. We fear being told no, or imagine we are imposing on, or bothering people.
Often we don’t believe we have any relevant contacts, “I don’t know anybody who…” We don’t know how to approach it – and don’t recognize that there are different types of networking with different purposes. So we network ineffectively and get discouraged.
Breaking down networking into four categories, understanding each one’s purpose, finding people to talk with and applying appropriate strategies makes it all more doable.
Subtle Networking involves viewing your daily interactions with people you know, or people you meet, as networking opportunities. It is a low risk approach and a great building block for the other types of networking. The purpose is to get information about various jobs and organizations that are out there without broadcasting that you’re looking around. To do this, take advantage of ALL your casual conversations.
Most people you run into have jobs and with a little prompting, will talk about them. Wondering what you’ll say? In conversation, simply ask people –
- What kind of work do you do?
- How is your ___ job going? Do you enjoy it?
- Where are you working these days? What’s it like there?
Keep notes of who you speak to and what you learn. Both what people are doing and where they are doing it. This is the beginning of your contacts list.
If you’re still trying to figure out what kind of job you really want, Informational Interviews may be your next step to explore a few areas of interest. Informational interviews are not the same as job interviews and are not disguised job searching meetings. Informational interviews help you learn from current or past practitioners about specific career fields/jobs of interest.
BUILD A NETWORK OF CONTACTS
A side benefit is to build a network of contacts in the field for future use and begin to gain supporters – people that you “connect with” that can help you when you’re actually ready to look for a position. It’s easier to get started talking to people that you know, even just a little bit, then cold calling people – and you’ll get a warmer reception.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Begin with the list you’ve developed from your subtle networking. Develop your contacts list by including people you know from professional associations, social groups, family, friends (pull out that holiday card list), neighbors, community contacts and school alumni. The majority of these people will be happy to spend 30 minutes with you talking about what they do. If you have contacts that are not local, conduct the interviews via the phone or by emailing a list of questions that you’d like them to respond to.
At this stage of the game it is better to conduct these interviews with people who are not in a position to hire you. It keeps the intent “truer”, seeking information rather than a job. Save the hiring contact until you are clearer about what you want and more knowledgeable about the field.
As the person seeking information, your role is to ask questions, listen and record information, not primarily talk about yourself. Your questions will be geared toward finding out what the work is, the abilities and knowledge needed to be successful, the future challenges of the field and recommendations on how people get into the line of work.
JOB SEARCH NETWORKING
Job Search Networking involves meeting and talking to people in your desired field or companies of interest who may be able to help you in your job search. It’s a great way to uncover job leads and find out about unadvertised positions. Talking to people who have connections in your desired line of work will help you get referrals -people who can put in a “good word” for you. Go back to contacts that you’ve spoken to earlier. Identify people in the field, those who know people in the field, or work at organizations that you’re interested in.
Utilize your Linkedin network –both contacts and groups. Look for additional contacts from local professional associations and your school’s alumni organization. Make a point to be at events and gatherings where people who do the work you desire go. Now it’s time to approach contacts in a position to hire you.
A key to getting an appointment is how you ask for it. Avoid saying “I’m looking for a job in…” because it gives the person you want to meet an easy out to say, “I don’t have any open positions”. Consider asking for information and advice. Your phone call could sound like this;
“We have a common acquaintance ______ and she gave me your name as someone who has a lot of experience in the _________ field. I am looking for suggestions, possible leads and advice to help me find a ____ position. If you’re willing, I’d like to set up 20 -30 minutes to meet with you and tap into your knowledge. I can meet at whatever time and place is convenient for you.”
Your questions will be geared to:
- Getting pointers on your resume
- Tips on where people may be advertising for the job you want
- Associations and groups that are “musts” to be part of
- Additional names of people in the field to talk with, particularly at organizations you’re interested in.
Make a positive impression here and you may get called back if they do have an opening or hear about an opportunity.
In conversations you may also identify an organization’s need that you may be able to fill, even if they don’t currently have a position, and make a case for how you may be able to help them solve a problem or fill a gap. Contract work and/or positions do get created when you can be the solution to a key obstacle.
Finally, it is always worthwhile to spend some time doing On Going Networking, and not just when budget cuts are headed your way. Make it part of your professional agenda to constantly meet and mix with people in your profession. The payoffs will be many – you’ll continue to hear about positions (often it’s the times when you’re not looking that the best opportunities become available), keep yourself industry current, and you’ll be building your contacts for the future.
Keep in touch with people that impress you at conferences. Join associations and actively participate on committees and attend the functions. In larger organizations, you can network with others who do related work in other divisions. There are always jobs out there.
Making effective networking a consistent and key part of your strategy will help you get them. Apply the right approach to your situation and you’re on your way toward making positive things happen for yourself!
“Networking, it’s the Key” is a copyrighted publication of Career & Workplace Directions, LLC and cannot be copied or printed without expression permission of Career & Workplace Directions, LLC.