It’s like the mantra for all job seekers: “network, network, network!” We hear it so often it’s almost a given. But what does it actually mean? Sure, we all know that when we’re looking for a job, we should talk to everyone we know and hope that something magically appears.
But considering that at least 60% of all jobs are found this way, networking shouldn’t be something that happens only when we need a job. Like a healthy diet and exercise, networking should be a way of life—an ongoing activity that we do to maintain the health of our careers.
It may seem intimidating at first, but the more you incorporate it into your everyday life, the more natural (and therefore, less intimidating) it will feel. Here’s a brief review on the basics of networking.
Make Connections, Not Contacts
The mistake many people make is to see networking as an inherently selfish act: How can this person benefit me professionally? But in truth, good networking is rarely done for immediate results. And usually, the best networking happens after your connections, knowledge or experience have benefitted others.
Networking is NOT about selling yourself. It’s about making and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships with professional colleagues. At its essence, it’s collegial not competitive. That’s why it’s important to make the distinction between making connections (or friends) rather than contacts. You want to truly connect with others in a professionally enriching way. Once you understand this, it might make the process feel less awkward and more fun.
Attend Networking Events
Networking events might seem akin to going to a party where you know absolutely no one. But there are some very clear differences. Unlike a party where you’re winging it, networking events are filled with people who are in the same boat as you. And unlike parties, which are sometimes an exercise in whose the coolest (or lamest) person in the room, networking events serve a purpose: to learn what’s new in your field, gain insight into possible career paths, and meet people who share your interests. Unlike parties, the focus should not be on you, but on gaining knowledge and learning about others.
In addition to conferences, work related functions and parties, networking events held by professional associations, industry groups and alumni associations could provide valuable opportunities to make connections. But some are definitely better than others, so do your research.
Have a Plan
Before you go into any networking opportunity, always figure out what you want to achieve. Are you interested in exploring other opportunities in your own field or are you thinking of going into another industry altogether? Or maybe you have a very specific company in mind and you’re looking for a way in. Knowing what you want can help you prepare for what to say. So if someone asks you what you do, you can say something like, “I’m working as a marketing analyst right now, but I’d really like to find a way to segue into finance.”
But even before you get to that point, it helps to have a number of conversation starters prepared. Don’t be afraid to walk up to somebody who’s alone and break the ice with something as simple as, “Hi, I’m Joe! How did you hear about this event?” Click here for some other great conversation starters.
Figure Out How You Can Help
As mentioned before, the purpose of networking is to create mutually beneficial professional relationships. Like any mutually beneficial relationship—friendship, marriage, pet ownership—the more you put into it, the more you stand to gain. (Ok, maybe your dog will still love you regardless of what you put into it.)
So rather than thinking what someone can be doing for you, always think about how you can be helping somebody else. This, of course, doesn’t mean recommending somebody for a job that you feel they’d be disastrous for. It just means that if you can help somebody out with an introduction or job lead, do so.
And finally, one of the most important parts of networking is following-up. This could mean following up with a contact who said they might have a lead for you. Or it could mean facilitating an introduction between a new contact and a business colleague.
Regardless, it’s important to try to follow-up within 24 hours after making the connection. And it doesn’t end there. Once you’ve made the connection, try and sustain it by checking in periodically if appropriate, adding them to your social networks and remembering them if a suitable opportunity comes up for them. The more you have a positive presence in the lives of others, the more positive they’ll feel about you. And this can be especially helpful when it comes time to look for a new job.
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