Is networking valuable? Like everything else, it depends on how you use it. If you’re just calling people and asking for jobs, then no, it does not. If you can offer something of value – knowledge, experience or even friendship – then yes, it can.
The 80% myth: “80% of all job seekers find jobs by networking.”
Heard that one yet? Scary, isn’t it? Many candidates are not comfortable with networking. Not everyone is as personable or bold as the super-salesman, after all. Believe it or not, shy and introverted people get hired every day.
The 80% figure is an inflated number. It includes Aunt Martha telling you about a job she saw on Monster.com. You don’t have to shake hands like a politician to land a job. Don’t get intimidated or down on yourself if this is a weak area for you. There are plenty of ways to improve your networking skills.
Get over networking fear
If you’re not comfortable with face-to-face networking, try it online first. Websites like www.linkedin.com and www.facebook.com are great places to contact people. If you can break the ice in electronic worlds, you will be more confident when you meet people face-to-face. Social networking sites are growing exponentially, which opens more and more back doors to your target companies. However, there is more to gain than just job contacts. Networking is really about people helping each other by sharing knowledge. This is done in groups.
When you join groups, ask questions and get involved. If you like someone’s answers, look at his profile. Is this somebody you would like to know more about? Try emailing them in private about their answers, rather than just posting your comments in the discussion areas. After you’ve shared some emails back and forth, ask them to connect. They don’t have to work for your immediate target companies to be valuable. The goal is to build a self-sustaining network that will last beyond the job search.
Learn to build a valuable network. It’s not really about building the numbers if you have no idea who these people are or what your connection to them is. As in real life, concentrate on building mutually beneficial business relationships. In my own case, I have found mentors, students, advisors, old acquaintances, friends and fun people online. Isn’t that what true networking is all about?
Once you get accustomed to reaching out to people, then go after your targets, seeking them on LinkedIn and Twitter. Just like anything, networking is a skill and you become better by practicing it. If you’ve started to build your network already, you will quickly become a valued asset instead of “that creepy guy” who tracks people down and bombards them with silly or irrelevant emails.
Going live: Professional groups and associations
Professional associations are valuable connections with your industry. Use these as research centers and build up from there.
In general, many professional groups contain a significant number of job seekers, about 10-30% of their membership. Don’t go to a meeting thinking you’re going to meet the CEO and hand him your resume. Nobody likes being blindsided at a social function.
Instead, ask them questions about their company and industry. The more you can ask about them, the better. People like to talk about themselves. Ask intelligent questions – you might even write some down before you get to the event to help keep your own focus:
- Where do you see your company going in the future?
- I read an article about ________ – what’s your opinion?
- I think ____________ is going to be a big industry trend – what do you think?
- What’s your biggest challenge right now?
The last question is a great lead-in. If you get an opportunity to pitch yourself, be sure it relates to the needs they just stated.
When you meet people at a networking event, be sure to trade business cards. If you don’t have any, www.VistaPrint.com has some very affordable options for cards that look and feel professional. Keep your message positive, and not a desperate title like “Seeking opportunities in Human Resources.”
After the event, it is essential to follow up the next day. Send a thank you email and mention key points you discussed the day before, even if it was fantasy football or the latest movies. You want your new contact to remember you – many people don’t recall names, but will remember an interesting conversation.
Don’t send your new contact a resume right away. Cultivate the relationship first. Show appreciation for them as a person, not just an avenue to get a job. Networking works best when you connect with people, not use them.