Many people think that networking during a job search means calling everyone you know and asking them for a job. They associate networking with being pushy, overbearing, and an overall pest. People often shy away from networking because they don't want to be labeled as this type of person. But research shows that a large number of jobs are filled through networking. How can this be so if networkers are such an annoying, self-serving lot?
Successful networkers are not egocentric, aggressive jerks. They show a sincere interest in their networking contacts. They work hard to develop a relationship, establish their credibility, and share information. They follow the rules of the game in which everyone has something to gain. Like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it. Below are seven rules to follow for successful networking.
1. Don't ask for a job - ask for information
Networking is not about asking everyone you know for a job. As a matter of fact, when you network you should never ask someone for a job. You ask them for information that will help you in your search. Your goal is to build a relationship and establish rapport so that if a potential opportunity becomes available in the future, your contact will want to refer you. Compare these two scenarios:
"Joe, I've been out of work for six months and I'm really strapped for cash. Do you know of any open positions in your department?"
You've put Joe in a very difficult position. Sure, he can sympathize with your situation, but he may not be able to offer you a job. Perhaps he's not in a position to refer you, or there's a hiring freeze, or there aren't any openings right now. Whatever answer Joe gives you, it's bound to be disappointing. So to redeem himself, Joe says, "I don't know of any open positions, but why don't you give me your resume and I'll send it to the HR department where I work." Bad move. Unless your skills match a specific opening in the company at that point in time, your resume is bound to never be looked at. Joe will feel that he's done what he can for you, but you will be no better off.
"Joe, as you know, I most recently worked for a medical device company in its marketing group. I know that you've been in pharmaceutical sales for the past 15 years, and I'm very interested in learning more about marketing roles within your industry. I don't expect you to know of any open positions in your organization, but I'd like the opportunity to speak with you briefly to learn more about your organization and the pharmaceutical industry in general."
Joe may think, OK, here's a friend that wants some information and sees me as some sort of expert on the topic. That's kind of flattering. I guess I could spend a few minutes with him. Does Joe know you're looking for a job? Probably. But you are not asking him for a job; you're just asking him for advice and insight. The stakes are low, and the expectations are reasonable, so he is more likely to help you.
2. Don't take up too much of the other person's time
Have an agenda and keep the meeting on track. Nothing scares people more than the prospect of someone eating up a lot of their time. Many people don't want to cram yet another meeting into their already jam-packed day. Contrast these two situations:
You meet with Mary after a mutual friend has agreed to help you set up a brief 20-minute meeting. You neglect to prepare for the meeting, ramble, get off topic, and spend an hour and a half with her. Mary feels that you have abused the use of her time, and you haven't gotten to the critical questions you'd hoped to ask during the meeting. Mary feels burned and vows never to network again.
You walk into the meeting with a prepared mental agenda that includes:
- A reminder of who referred you and perhaps some brief chit-chat about that mutual acquaintance.
- A statement up front that you have no reason to believe Mary can offer you a position and a reiteration of why Mary's information is of interest to you.
- An explanation of your agenda. "Today I'd like to tell you a bit about myself and get your perspective on the future of the high-tech industry." Remember to discuss your skills and accomplishments and show how you can add value to an organization.
By planning out your meeting ahead of time, you establish your professionalism, gain credibility, and cover all the critical agenda items.
3. Give the other person a chance to speak. Ask questions
When you network it is imperative that you do not do all the talking. If you have asked another person for advice, make sure he or she has the opportunity to offer it. When you do all the talking, the other person might feel confused and unsure of what action to take with the information you have supplied. Here are some questions you can ask to keep your exchange balanced and establish rapport.
- How long have you been with this company/field?
- What do you like/dislike about your job?
- What type of training do you need for positions such as yours?
- What is the culture of this company and what are its guiding principles?
4. Ask for suggestions on how to expand your network
One of the main goals of networking is to tap into the network of the people you are meeting with. Each person you meet knows 200 or more people. If you can gain introductions to some of them, you quickly increase your network and your chances of finding the right connection. Ask your contacts if they can recommend a professional organization or the names of some other people you should be talking to.
5. Create a vehicle for follow-up
If you want to establish rapport with another person, create ways to keep the relationship going. Ask the person if you may keep them informed of your search progress. If you read an article that pertains to a discussion you had at a networking meeting, cut it out and send it to him or her with a brief note. Try to find at least two to three opportunities yearly to reconnect with members of your network.
6. Find ways to reciprocate
Building a network is about creating a genuine, caring relationship. Thank your contact for the information they have supplied and see if you can help them in some way. Maybe your contact is interested in living in an area that you are familiar with or has a child interested in attending the same school you just graduated from. Share your knowledge of the school and your experience there as a way to help the other person. Keep notes on what you learn about your contacts so that future correspondence can have a personalized touch like "How was Jane's first year of school?"
7. Send a thank-you letter
Always thank your contacts in person and follow up with a letter. If your handwriting is legible, the personalized touch is always appreciated.
Final Thoughts on Networking Success for Job Seekers
Networking is an ongoing process. It requires persistence, attention, organization, and good will. Incorporate the art of networking into your job-search campaign now, and you will gain opportunities and build relationships that will last a lifetime.