We all know that we’re supposed to “network”. It has been shown over and over to be the best way to find jobs. In a down economy, networking is more important than ever because employers get inundated with resumes and they’re afraid of hiring the wrong person. As a result, they’d much rather hire someone who is recommended by a friend, colleague, or employee.
Many people tell me that they’ve tried networking, but that it doesn’t work for them. When I dig a little deeper, I find out that their definition of networking is to send out an email to friends asking if they know of any openings or, they attend “networking” meetings hoping to find someone who knows of a job. Hope is not a strategy. To network effectively, you need to use it to find the people and companies out there who need you.
So, how do you do that? Here are some suggestions to get you started:
1. Think of it as research
Let’s make this easier, what if you need a plumber? What do you do? You might research plumbers on the internet, see if there are any plumbers nearby with good recommendations, you might look in the phone book. But, more than likely, you’ll ask your neighbors. Networking is just like that. The problem is that we feel like we’re trying to sell ourselves through the networking process. Instead, think of it as research to find companies and people we want to work for AND who value our skills and knowledge!
2. Make a list of 100 people you know
They don’t have to be in your field and you don’t have to know them that well. Just well enough that you can call or email them and ask them for 15-20 minutes of their time. The goal of the meeting is to brainstorm with them to get information, advice, and names of companies and people who might have useful information or contacts for you. Do not ask them if they know of any jobs! Most people don’t know about job openings – even at their own companies. It’s not their job to find you a job. Make it easy for them to help you by keeping your “ask” simple – ask for advice, names, suggestions, ideas and then you take it from there.
3. Know what you are looking for
If you think of this as research, you need to know what you’re looking for. And, don’t tell me you’re looking for a job. That’s too vague. What kind of job? In what industry? What type of company and work environment? What geography? If you’re not sure about the answers to these questions, you need to do a bit more homework to figure that out before you go out there and network.
4. Be prepared
When you ask to meet with someone, it’s your meeting. They will likely say “so what can I do for you”? You need to be prepared with an answer to that question. And, once again, the answer is not “find me a job”. The answer is to (briefly) tell them what skills you’re hoping to use in what industry and geography. “I’m looking for an opportunity to use my financial analysis skills in a non-profit organization in the Boston area” – is enough to get the conversation started.
Granted, there’s a fine line between being persistent and being a pest. Never leave it in their hands to respond to you. I can’t tell you how many people tell me, “I tried networking once – I sent an email and they never responded. Networking doesn’t work for me.” That is not networking. You need to follow up with a phone call, another email, or snail mail. Everyone is busy. If they don’t respond the first time, don’t assume that they don’t want to talk to you. More than likely, they just didn’t have time to reply.
6. Remember it’s about building relationships
Finally, remember that networking is a two-way street. End every meeting with the question: “Is there anything I can do for you?” You’d be surprised at the answers you might get. If you don’t think you have anything to offer – remember that you have many skills and talents including some that may not be on your resume. And, if you’re doing a good job networking, you will begin to have a large network you can draw upon to help others you meet along the way.
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