Networking as a job search strategy creates a great deal of angst. For many, it’s just plain uncomfortable to introduce yourself to strangers and strike up conversations in the hopes of uncovering job leads.
But that’s putting the horse before the cart. The first hurdle is simply finding new people to add to your network, according to job seekers who participated in a Lee Hecht Harrison online poll. Thirty-one percent of survey respondents said identifying networking partners was their greatest challenge.
The “why” behind networking
Finding the right networking partners is critical. Most job openings are never advertised or posted, which means tapping your network is an essential strategy to uncover hidden opportunities.
Hiring managers and recruiters prefer to work with people who have been referred by someone they trust. Your network is key to getting you introductions and referrals that will separate you from the “unknown” candidates.
Members of your personal and professional networks — including business associates, colleagues, former coworkers, vendors, managers, friends and close acquaintances — make up a community where you’re known. (Click here to tweet this thought.) These people may already be advocates of your work. You may share interests. This can easily be expanded to conversations about careers and business needs.
Your network connections are often willing to introduce you to people in their own networks, thereby providing an opportunity to broaden your reach and build a bigger community. As your network expands, more opportunities present themselves to initiate new contacts with a referral. A larger network increases the likelihood of gaining a meeting and eliminates the need to rely on less productive cold calls.
The “how” is just as important as the “who”
While finding networking partners was the number one obstacle, job seekers struggle in other areas that are crucial to their networking success. The LHH poll also found that 25 percent of job seekers don’t have a clear networking strategy. Going into any networking meeting without a plan and defined goals usually won’t secure any job leads.
Networking is not a one-way street. Remember that networking is about establishing new relationships, strengthening existing relationships and sharing information. It’s two-way communication that’s mutually enlightening and beneficial to both parties.
Prepare for your next networking meeting or event. Conduct online research on attendees to help uncover common interests. Know what questions you want to ask and practice answering the question, “What do you do?”
A few tips to take your networking to the next level
With a little coaching and guidance, any reluctant networker can be turned into a pro.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait until you’re looking for a job to connect with your network. It should be part of a proactive career management strategy. Devote time to nurturing a strong career network of contacts. Be ready to offer assistance, share articles and professional insights, participate in groups and attend professional meetings.
- Engage in discovery. Seek out new networking contacts. LinkedIn can be incredibly helpful in finding new connections. But don’t rely solely on social networks. Be active in professional associations and/or industry groups. People hire people they know, so it’s important to make potential networking contacts in person at live events.
- Have a plan. Identify targeted companies and the competencies and experience you want to promote. This will help you focus on the right networking activities and conversations.
- Connect. Use your referral’s name up front: “Richard Smith thought you’d be a great resource for me as I explore career opportunities in the financial services industry.” Ask if you could discuss your targeted companies, probing for others that should be included and for names of possible contacts.
- Build your networking confidence. Practice networking at a variety of events. Arrive early — it’s easier to initiate one-on-one conversations during the first 10 minutes when the group is still small. Prepare open-ended questions to keep conversations going. Confidence is developed by becoming skilled; becoming skilled requires practice.
The key to networking success is found in making the time and always adding value to the conversation. This strategy is guaranteed to deliver job leads. Remember to start with a strategy, attend the right events and talk to the right people and keep practicing.
Greg Simpson is Senior Vice President, Career Transition Practice Leader for Lee Hecht Harrison. Greg is responsible for developing, disseminating and managing the direction of career transition services for LHH, the world’s largest outplacement firm.