Learning how to network may be the most important skill you need to find your next job.
Networking is paramount in today’s job market.
Savvy job seekers know how to network to find a job and for good reason. By some estimates, a whopping 70 to 80 percent of job opportunities aren’t even posted publicly.
What does that mean?
It means that your job search strategy should be heavy on networking and light on blasting online job boards with your latest resume.
According to business leader Jenny Garver who has more than 20 years of experience in senior leadership roles within the staffing and medical services industries:
“I have never had to apply for a job in my entire life. All my career moves have happened due to knowing someone I have networked with throughout the years.”
That’s pretty powerful stuff.
Garver concurs that networking is vital, adding, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
What is networking, anyway?
Some people may shy away from the idea of networking because they have a negative or antiquated view of what it entails. This is especially true of introverts. If you’re on the shy side, fear not.
Networking, more simply put, is relationship building.
Your network already includes your current circle of friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances, but more importantly, networking is the act of growing that village by proactively seeking out and cultivating new relationships.
Networking is a two-way street. Don’t think of it as just a means to an end. Rather, it’s a community. A tribe. It’s constantly in flux, and you have just as much to offer someone else as they offer you. So if you feel a little squirmy about just “using” people to get a job, remember, networking done correctly means having a genuine interest in giving as much as receiving.
Forming new relationships and building trust does require putting yourself out there, and that can seem scary. But the good news is that the spectrum of networking is broad enough to accommodate all types of people, and it doesn’t always have to involve making the rounds with a handful of business cards with a cocktail in your hand.
Given what the statistics show us about employment and hiring trends, networking will not only boost your chances of getting your next job. It’s one of the better ways to find a job.
The best way to start networking
“Get out of your comfort zone,” says Joe McMichael, a career services director who has worked with job-seeking students and graduates for over 20 years in both proprietary and community college settings. “You must cast a wide net and not only rely on family and friends.”
McMichael suggests attending networking events and career fairs as a way to boost your exposure and grow your network. Your college career services office is a great tool for getting help with relationship-building skills.
Other untapped college resources for networking are alumni networks and student organizations. Start by following these groups on social media and networking sites like LinkedIn.
Cultivating your current network by simply keeping in touch while seeking new opportunities to meet new people is the key to networking.
Here are 6 tips on how to network to find a job:
- Treat job hunting like a full-time job. That goes for networking too.
Networking is a marathon, not a race. Plot out a set number of hours per week to commit to networking, whether it’s reaching out to congratulate someone on a new job or attending an actual networking event. Carve out time for networking activities weekly.
- Set small goals.
Maybe you’re more of an introvert, and you’re still not sold on the idea of putting yourself out there to meet new people. Rather than signing up for a local networking event, dreading it, dragging yourself there only to feel anxious and uncomfortable for the full three hours, just commit to one small milestone. Make a three-handshake goal. Once you’ve introduced yourself to three people, call it a day and make it four next time. If you’re an extrovert but really bad at time management, the same concept applies. Set a goal to send just three emails and comment on one social media post per week.Setting small goals allows you to cultivate current relationships and build new ones over time, which seems more manageable.
- Develop a personal brand statement.
One of the mistakes McMichael sees students make often is not developing a personal brand statement. Think of it like your own mission statement that says who you are and what you’re all about. It’s not that you have to recite it robotically every time you shake hands with someone; rather, having an established brand statement and familiarizing yourself with it helps you quickly communicate your values during fast-paced events like job fairs where face time might be limited.
- Keep it real…as in genuine.
It’s obvious when someone is trying to just get a job out of a networking event. Your goal should be fostering and building relationships. Walking up and interrupting someone mid-discussion to shove your resume in her face and recite your biggest lifetime achievements is a real turnoff. Instead, let conversations happen organically and try to learn something about the other person. Some relationships hit it off immediately, while others may take time. That’s okay. Professional relationships are unique, each with their own purpose and dynamic.
- Be professional.
Every time you interact, whether in person or online, you’re networking whether you like it or not. Always be professional. This goes beyond dressing appropriately for a networking event. It also means commenting and posting conscientiously on social media because you never know who’s following. The last thing you want to do is turn off a potential resource because of unprofessional words or memes you posted online. If you do attend a casual happy-hour networking event, keep the drinking to a bare minimum (think sipping the same beer the entire time) or skip the booze altogether in favor of water. A sure way to alienate and embarrass yourself is to be the person at the butt of the “Hey, remember that guy who got really drunk at the community foundation’s networking night last year?” joke.
- Don’t rely on the Internet.
McMichael says that this is a big mistake college grads make when looking for work. Despite what many statistics show about the power of networking, most job seekers still find themselves searching for job leads online.Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? You should spend the most time on the 20 percent of the input that will get you 80 percent of output. Ahem, networking. That’s not to say online job searches are worthless. But why spend a majority of your time on an activity that will yield little return? Networking is proven effective if done diligently, thoughtfully and effectively.
How to maintain and expand your network
Remember, networking is more than attending social events. According to Garver, relationship-building comes in all forms: “I network on a daily basis whether it be social media, in person or through research.”
Don’t limit yourself to thinking that networking has to be the age-old happy-hour mixer put on by the staffing agency in town. It’s also reaching out simply to stay connected.
You can maintain your current network by keeping in touch through social media and dropping a line every so often. If you see something you think would be of interest to someone you’re connected to, send them an email.
“Hey! I know you’re a big Harry Potter fan. Did you see they’re having a Hogwarts themed dinner nearby in Chicago? Thought I’d pass it along! Hope you and your team are doing well. Take care!”
Taking these little steps to tend to your professional relationships shows that you’re engaged in the interests of others, that you care, and that you’re someone to consider if an opportunity comes up.
Remember, networking must be a genuine exercise. Learning about others will give you the seeds you need to grow your network, which is largely based on trust and commitment.
Expanding your network can take a bit of time, but the payoff can be huge.
Google “networking events in my city” and see what comes up. Subscribe to your alumni network newsletter and ensure you check in with your college career services department so you’re aware of upcoming job fairs. Stay connected to employers you’re interested in through social media. Many of them will have a presence at job fairs, and some larger companies host hiring events.
Knowing how to network is a non-negotiable for today’s job seekers. All signs point to networking as one of the most efficient ways to get a job, grow a career, and potentially even make more money.
What are you waiting for? There’s no better time than the present to start planning for your future.
NPR. (2011). A Successful Job Search: It’s All About Networking. [online] Available at: http://www.npr.org/2011/02/08/133474431/a-successful-job-search-its-all-about-networking