I often hear job seekers ask how to network. Misperceptions have caused this valuable tool to not be used near enough. Networking is by far the most potent tool in your job search toolbox.
First, let’s start with what it’s not – networking is not simply connecting to someone you don’t know on LinkedIn by merely sending them an invite to connect. (I will explain later how linking is a small first step in the process) Second, networking is not about cold calling; picking up the phone and calling someone you don’t know. (There is a time when you can use this technique, but with the right foundation).
I have found networking to be fun. Seriously, with the right approach, networking is actually one of the most pleasurable parts of the job search. Further, once you learn how to network properly, you will never stop. And lastly, spending time at job search groups seeing the same people week after week will no longer be necessary.
While everyone looks for the one new technique to break through in their job search, the age old technique of networking effectively is your key to land your next job.
Here are 10 steps to make your networking extremely effective and create a break- through in your job search results:
- What vendors/firms have you worked with? The best place to start with networking is connecting with people you worked with who did business with your company. Having a finance background I met and interacted with dozens of people from banks, law firms, insurance companies and brokers, and auditors. I always kept in contact with them and when unemployed met them at their convenience to talk one-on-one.
No doubt that you know someone at a company that did business with your firm. These people know key personnel at other firms and can be a great referral into other companies. Often these people know if another company is hiring or better yet, if someone just left a company. This gives you an edge to get your resume in first.
- Meet people anywhere – Strike up a conversation with someone everywhere you go; at the grocery store, at the gas station, in an elevator or with a neighbor – anywhere. Don’t start with explaining that you are unemployed and searching; rather, find out about them. What do they do? Where do they work? Make casual conversation. If you go around immediately discussing being unemployed, you will be similar to the life insurance salesmen everyone stays away from. Instead, get to know the other person. The more interest you show in them, then the more interest they will show in you.
- Meet everyone you can one-on-one – Once I ramped up my individual networking I had little time to go to weekly networking meetings – where I often saw the same people. Networking effectively is about meeting new people and spending time over a cup of coffee to learn about them. Yes, I said, learn about them. You probably have heard that we all have 6 degrees of separation. Everyone knows somebody. So start by asking questions to your new connection. Ask where they grew up, what college they attended, how they ended up at their current position, why they came to live here and even why they chose their profession.
- Ask and determine how you can help them – Yes, the hour you spend with someone is to determine how you can help them. I know, you thought you were there about your needs. Well, when you help someone they in-turn want to return the favor. And most important, by hearing what they need, you will uncover who they want to meet and who they know. Use your growing list of connections to help make an introduction to your new connection. And as you ask more questions and learn more about your new friend, you will find they often know someone you want to connect with. My wife summarizes this process exactly in stating that for effective networking, just like with a bank account, you can’t make a withdrawal until you make a deposit. Make as many deposits as you can. There will be time later to make a withdrawal.
- Build your connections similar to multi-level marketing – The true basis of multi-level marketing is to meet someone who can introduce you to 2 people, and in turn, those 2 people each introduce you to 2 more. As you continue this process you will build a downline of connections that all started with one person. And think of how many downlines you can build stating with all of the people you know now.
How do you get the names of the 2 people to meet? You ask your new connection. During your conversation they will have brought up the name of someone you want to meet, or if not, then at the end of your meeting, ask for the names of 2 people they can introduce you to. They will always know 2 people, anyone, even the person at the grocery store they know, who seems to know everyone. Those are the people I want to meet – because they know many people. I will say it again, I have networked for years and it is always fascinating and highly exciting. Why? Because every time I meet someone I end up surprised at who they know.
- The introduction – When networking effectively, your new connection is most happy to make an introduction to other people on your behalf. The most standard method is via email introduction where you and the new connection are introduced to each other. From there it is quite easy to respond, set up a time to meet, and you are on your way to meeting someone new – starting the process all over again. You can also call them if provided a phone number. This is not a cold call as your existing connection will have reached out to your new connection making an introduction. Then your call will be expected and flow much easier with no pressure compared to cold calling.
- Following up – This process is not complete without follow up and follow through. Reach out to your new connection as soon as possible simply setting up a time and place to meet. Then after you meet your new connection, send an email to the person that referred you and not only thank them for the introduction, but tell them how valuable the meeting was and what you learned about your new connection. This follow-up is critical as a thank you is always appropriate both to the person you met and the person that referred you. By doing this you further cement your growing connection with this person, and they want to know that when they referred you to someone, the new person responded and was helpful. A great meeting with someone new can only make your referral happy and glad to help you again.
- LinkedIn connections – This article can’t be complete without mentioning LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a wonderful tool like any other if used properly. You can be a member in up to 50 groups for free, and I suggest you get in 50 of them. The groups can be related to your job search, career, self-help and much more. If you find yourself involved in a discussion in one of the groups and give and take input from a couple of people, then use that as a basis to make a connection on LinkedIn. BUT, write something in your request to them when connecting that explains why you want to connect. Don’t send the “I want to connect with you” wording. I run from those invites. Instead, explain that you enjoy their posts, you learn much from them, and that being in the same group may prove you have more in common. Help make the other person be excited to connect with you, and continue your dialogue. But only reach out to connect with someone when you are intent on building a networking relationship.
- Keep a spreadsheet of connections – Having a finance background spreadsheets are second nature to me, and if they aren’t to you, determine some way to track all of the people you meet. Sure you can save their phone numbers, email address and where they work in your iphone. Yet, I recommend you keep additional information, such as: when you met, who they referred you to, and who referred them to you. The key here is knowing who referred someone to you, and then who they referred you to. You will find it is quite valuable to contact all of your connections periodically providing an update of your job search status and how they have helped you. My list of connections got so large that I carried my spreadsheet with me to networking meetings because I often referred back it.
- Hang out where your boss would hang out – Often job seekers are directed to target companies to land a job. You can do that, but that targets a few companies. Networking targets all of them. So determine where the hiring managers would network where they meet many people at the same level from other companies. Years ago in my Treasurer role I reported to the CFO and I looked to where CFO’s would attend conferences, seminars, networking meetings, etc. My goal was to be there to be introduced to CFO’s no matter the company at which they worked. Why? Because I could build a long term relationship with them never knowing when they might need me. Further, they know other CFO’s who might be hiring. Often one CFO will call another CFO who they met through networking and ask if they know anyone to fill an opening.
One quick point on quantity vs. quality. When I networked while unemployed I could build a database of a couple hundred connections very quickly. To some degree quantity has value as you never know where you will meet someone who can be your best referral. At the same time I did strive for quality. Generally I wanted to be around people in my profession or along my career path. I was not trying to get to 1,000 names as a contest. Rather, take the time to get to know your connections and build relationships.
The biggest key to all of this process is to get to know the other person and determine how you can help them. As you do this you will learn who they know. Most important you want them to be eager to get to you know you, the real you, with your great expertise, experience and skill set. This is extremely critical because having all of these connections is similar to having your own sales force. All of these connections will be eager to sell you to their business friends. But they can only do that by getting to know you, and have people eager to get to know you. You do that by demonstrating how you can help them.
In the end networking is about building lasting relationships. As you build these relationships, you will find that although there is an advantage to knowing many people, networking is most effective when your hundreds of connections know you. When they know your ability and passion, then they become your greatest asset. These connections will easily out power what you have on your resume as they make personal introductions just for you.
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