Ask almost anyone about their network and they’ll shoot you a look, then conclude: I don’t have one. For those changing jobs, the networking assessment isn’t quite so upbeat.
The mood gets even darker when those switching careers learn that 75% of jobs are landed through networking. The quick conclusion: with no network and few prospects, there’s a small chance of going back to work soon. Case closed.
The crux of the networking problem is that most people don’t think about their network unless they’re forced to. Desperation is the dominant element in their thinking, which makes it hard for anything positive to emerge.
The solution lies in simply changing the job-seeker’s perspective. Too often, a network is seen as a small cluster of people with a specific need who happen to be hiring – now.
To fully understand networking and take advantage of it, you have to look at its broader definition. Consider a network as nothing more than connected people who can help you advance your career.
Within this group are family and friends, former vendors and suppliers, your current or past employer (more about this shortly), people with whom you have done business, even passing acquaintances.
In many cases, these contacts know people who have a need or are aware of situations where you can play a role. The benefit to your contacts is that they look like geniuses if you are hired and do well, all based on their recommendation.
The genius factor should also help you get over any perception that networking is begging. It’s not. Networking is providing a hiring manager with a quality option: you.
Networking also works from the top down. Most hiring managers would prefer to fill a position with a person recommended by someone they know and respect. This is much safer than posting a position and hiring a complete stranger.
When it comes to networking with current or former employers, keep in mind that not every separation is a contentious affair. Economic downturns, mergers, the end of a product cycle all can trigger separations regardless of how well you performed.
Most employers will do what they can to help you land elsewhere if they were forced to let you go.
The next step is how to connect. Since most people are tied to the Internet at any given moment, this is the obvious place to start.
LinkedIn is probably the most effective tool in establishing relationships with everyone from former colleagues to future bosses. (This 2-minute video explains how it works.) Your network can provide you with recommendations on LinkedIn that are read by their contacts, key decision makers, recruiters and talent shoppers, generally. Additional LinkedIn features include professional groups, job postings and industry research.
Search online for other websites that can help you build your personal and professional brand, expand your social and business networks, alert you to events around the country, and provide other options.
Because online networking is so easy, it is tempting use these arms-length approaches to networking, exclusively. This comes at the expense of face-to-face meetings, which are really essential to building relationships. There is a lot to be learned from looking someone in the eyes. Technology tends to undermine that experience. (No, Skype doesn’t count.)
The easiest way to start the networking process is through email. Here, technology does have an advantage. As you go about setting up these meetings, it’s important to gauge the importance of each contact and determine what type of networking is appropriate.
Sometimes grabbing coffee for 10 minutes makes more sense than devoting an hour to lunch. Other times a professional meeting is where you want to spend your time. Variety will keep you motivated and shorter meetings can help you limit your expenses.
As you identify opportunities and build your network, there are some specific actions you’ll want to consider.
Even if it’s been awhile since you’ve talked, people on your list would be happy to hear from you. Starting with friends and family is usually the easiest first move. This will help you gain confidence to reach out to professional or more distant contacts. Don’t be frustrated if your initial efforts to network don’t produce immediate job offers. It’s often the second or third step removed where new contacts start to emerge.
There is specific information you want to convey when you’re networking. Let your contacts know exactly what you're looking for. This way they’ll know how to help you exactly. Other things that you’ll want your contacts to know: the professional direction you want to go, industries you are pursuing, specific companies on your radar.
No one wants to feel used. After you've made it clear what you're looking for, offer to be a resource for the person who’s going to help you. Even if they don’t take you up on your offer, they’ll feel like there is balance in the relationship. This will help ensure they answer their phone the next time you call.
When someone in your network makes a connection for you be sure to follow up. You are obligated to do this. Otherwise your contact will feel like his or her goodwill efforts have been wasted. And the person you were supposed to network with will consider your inaction as a negative.
Stay in contact with your network once you go to work. Remember to thank everyone who played a role in the process of your reemployment. Start a tickle file and keep your revitalized network updated as your job progresses. If nothing else, your newly expanded network is a resource to draw from for all sorts of reasons.
Consider everyone you know as a prospective connection, especially when you start the process. Look at all the associations you have and use these to create a list of headings. These might include work, church, professional groups, sports teams, neighborhood organizations, and anywhere else you meet other people. Under each of those headings, right down specific names. Also check your cell phone, your email address book, and any other group listings. Your final networking list will come from this master list.
There is a temptation to send your networking email to everyone who makes the final list – all at the same time. Resist this urge. You’ll want to follow up 2-3 days after sending out your email. If you have sent 50 emails Monday saying you are going to be in touch, you’ve created an almost impossible situation. Pace yourself.
Regardless of how you feel about anyone you encounter when networking, always keep your comments about them or to them positive. Someone may not have been as proactive on your behalf as you would have liked. Maybe they weren’t up to helping, physically. Don't assume the worst. Giving the benefit of the doubt is always the safest route.
The worst thing you can do when you're supposed to be looking for a job is to do nothing. Your goal should be to network with at least five different people each week: this is a minimum. Essentially this is a numbers game. The more contact you have with people the faster you accumulate leads and the faster you’ll land a job.
It’s easy to sink back into old habits once you go back to work. You made the effort to identify new contacts who assisted you in getting you what you needed. Look at this group as new friends as well as business associates in the making. You’ve taken a huge step forward. The worst thing would be to squander it.
Networking is something most people don’t think about because, on a conscious level, it’s something they don’t think they need. But the fact is that people network every day. Every conversation you have is networking at some level, and you know the benefit of those. Be sure to treat those contacts well. You never know when you’ll need them.
More expert advice about Finding a New Job
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