Finding your next job can be tough. In our technology-driven world, applying for jobs online while in your PJs is a convenience that’s hard to resist. But a crucial component of a successful job search involves networking: getting out there to expand your professional contacts and discover opportunities.
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How to network effectively
Networking skills come easily to some, but this is rare. For most of us, they’re an acquired talent and require practice over time. And that practice is well worth the effort: the research consistently shows that internal referrals are the top source of hires, meaning those personal relationships can have significant payoffs.
1. Start by determining your goals
Ask yourself what you are looking for from the relationships you hope to develop. Are you anticipating making contacts with a specific future employer? Meeting a new mentor who can provide career guidance or industry expertise? Meeting new people in your industry? Perhaps all of these? Intentionally identifying your networking goals will help you structure questions you want to ask, prepare your elevator pitch and determine requests you have for your contacts.
2. Talk with your friends
Friends can play a valuable role in your networking efforts. Whether you’re an introvert, new to networking, or having trouble focusing your goals, begin with people you already know. Take them to coffee or lunch and learn the story of their career path and choices. Focusing your conversation on their professional experiences will reveal new perspectives and ideas, even if you’ve known each a long time. Ask if they can connect you to someone in your field or at one of your dream companies, and build from there.
3. Attend events to meet new people
Step away from the computer screen and shake some hands. Online networking is a powerful tool, but there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction. If employment is your goal, the networking events you’ll find the most productive are ones that include a diverse mix of job seekers, industry reps, recruiters, and companies seeking talent. If you’re looking to meet peers in your industry or learn more about a new field, you can easily find industry- or career-focused groups and meetups in your local area by searching social media channels.
You can use these networking events to make new connections and then, you’ll be able to follow up and cultivate those relationships with meaningful one-on-one conversations.
Pro tip: Think quality over quantity. Networking is not about trying to meet as many people as you can. It’s not a numbers game. Seek people who will make a difference in your life—and those you can inspire as well.
4. Ask to understand
Amidst the stress of the job search, it’s easy to become so focused on yourself that you forget to really pay attention to others. When you network, whether at an event or a one-on-one coffee, ask people genuine questions based on your goals and listen closely to their answers.
Clear your mind and focus on listening empathetically and with curiosity rather than with self-interest. You’ll learn a lot in the process and make an impression with your attentiveness. Active listening is a skill we should all practice, and networking events are the ideal opportunity.
5. Build a network matrix
Target the companies you’re interested in, and seek out people who work for each company or who know someone there. Build a “Who + Where” matrix that matches who you know with where they work and use their name as referrals when you apply for positions at those companies (be sure to ask their permission first). A contact who can provide insight into the hiring manager’s personality or preferences is a real asset. At some companies, employees receive a bonus if their referral is hired; if your friend is lucky enough to work for a company that rewards referrals, you’ll both have something to celebrate.
Below is just one of the ways to organize your network matrix. This example highlights an individual focusing on jobs in the technology industry because they include more contacts from companies in this area. As this example shows, you also can organize your network contacts by relationship and how well you know each individual (in this case, by tier) to understand and prioritize how your contacts can help.
6. Volunteer in your community
If you can, donate your time to a good cause and mingle with people who aren’t in your industry. It feels good to give your time to others in need, and if you’re unemployed, it’s wise to get out of the house and not spend too much time in isolation. Pick a cause or group that resonates with your values and donate a few hours each month.
Volunteering can help you grow your social network by exposing you to people who share your passions and personal values. You can also volunteer for a professional association to grow career-related contacts as well. Along the way, you may meet mentors and new friends with fresh job leads.
7. Follow up and don’t forget the basics
After an event, send follow-up emails to your contacts, thank everyone you spoke with, and complete any promised tasks. Even if you haven’t made commitments, stay active and develop your new relationships. And don’t forget to always carry a printed version of your resume and business cards, if you have them. If you’re inviting people in your network out to coffee or lunch, always offer to pay for the meal and send a thank-you note following the conversation.
Increasing your visibility as a job candidate is the primary benefit of networking, but it’s also just the beginning. Building relationships with people who you feel are knowledgeable and reliable can provide guidance and help you get where you want to go. And these relationships aren’t a one-way street: you will also meet people who can benefit from your support. In this way, you’ll build a professional circle over time, one based on the idea that goodwill should be paid forward. By coupling networking with your online job search strategy, you will exponentially increase your opportunities for success.
1Indeed data (worldwide)