What Color Is Your Parachute, the classic job-seeker text, notes that networking is five times more likely to result in a job offer than is sending resumes. Networking is undoubtedly the single most important tool in the job hunter’s kit. However, in doing research for today’s post, I was surprised at the degree to which “networking” was assumed to be only about seeking a job…period. In fact, networking is a process that is (or should be) used in many different ways and at many different career steps / stages.
Sometimes networking is about identifying people who can provide advice on learning about possible career paths. If you know that you’re in a field that you no longer find stimulating, but don’t know how to go about honing in on some other possibilities, it may be very valuable to talk with a mature, experienced friend of the family’s, with someone who works in human resources, with your alma mater’s career counseling center, or perhaps with a consultant who’s worked with clients in a number of different industries.
Sometimes networking is about identifying connections to specific companies in which you have interest. Sometimes it’s about trying to meet a particular individual. And, most certainly very often it is about the search for employment. KNOW WHAT YOUR GOAL IS BEFORE EMBARKING ON A FULL COURT NETWORKING PRESS!
After having identified the goal, you should prepare diligently. Pay careful attention to crafting your “elevator speech”. My definition of an elevator speech in the context of today's post is a 15 to 60 second statement that will clearly communicate to the listener what you want them to take away from their encounter with you. To the degree possible, make the speech about a benefit you will ultimately be able to offer ("I’m looking for more challenging work so that I can bring my skills as a problem-solver to bear on some really tough issues") rather than just a label ("I’m looking for work as an engineer"). Of course it needs to be focused on you, but keep in mind that the speech should have a benefit for the listener as well. That benefit could range from feeling good about being consulted to the possibility of your providing some kind of assistance down-the-road.
Here are nine more tips on improving your networking skills:
1) Practice, practice, practice. Think of a networking opportunity as a job interview – you want to be as well-prepared as possible, avoiding “umms”, stumbles, and awkward pauses as much as possible.
2) Ask open-ended questions. “How did you decide to get into marketing” is a much better conversation starter than “Do you know anyone in marketing”.
3) Remember that networking is ultimately about creating relationships, not asking for favors or using others. The good networker stands ready to return a favor when called upon.
4) Keep track of whom you’ve networked with, and what the next steps are supposed to be. You should also note any key facts or conversational points that you might choose to reference in a future encounter with that person (“Did you enjoy that cruise you were planning on taking last winter?”) It’s easy to lose track when you’re networking with many people, and sloppy or inattentive follow-through is a sure way to eliminate someone from your list of favorably-disposed contacts.
5) Relatedly, follow through on suggested contacts ASAP.
6) Jobs in particular, but much valuable career information in general, comes not directly from the circle of people we know, but from the circle of those people (a degree of separation removed). So you never can actually know who might be a good source, since it's impossible to be aware of everyone in all of your acquaintances' circles. Don't overlook neighbors, former co-workers, college alumni, or club / association members.
7) Practice ways of gracefully exiting a networking conversation. You don’t want a conversation to drag on too far beyond its purpose; that’s a time-waster for you and your listener.
8) Stay in touch without making yourself an annoyance. Forwarding a short article related to the topic you discussed lets the person you’re networking with know you’re attentive, ambitious, and considerate.
9) Join LinkedIn and complete a full profile as possible, updating it regularly, and use LinkedIn strictly for professional purposes.