Last week I focused on the importance of reaching out to your prime networking prospects, your "first tier" as I describe it. These are people who would describe you favorably if a prospective employer called them. This week I will examine the role of the "second tier," people one degree removed from your first tier, and the "third tier", people more distantly removed.
Second tier people are the friends, relatives, co-workers, etc. of your first tier connections. They are quite likely to be favorably disposed towards you since someone they know (a person in your first tier) speaks highly of you. As importantly, second tier connections are going to be vastly more numerous than your first tier connections. That's simply a geometric fact. If you can count 50 people in your first tier, and assume that each of them will also have 50 in their first tier, you are now up to 2500 networking possibilities. Don't panic: you won't be interacting with the vast majority of them for various reasons: either they don't return a call or e-mail, or they're too busy to respond favorably to a request from a friend to talk with you, etc. But even if only 2% of your second tier in the example above is willing to engage with you, that's an additional fifty networking possibilities.
You should take the time to formulate a well-thought-through networking pitch, and then practice it. It should have two primary components: your goal, and what you "bring to the table".
GOAL: The clearer you can be about your goal, the more likely it is that networking will pay off. "I'm thinking of changing careers because I find myself getting stale and want to encounter new challenges" is so vague that it is unlikely to turn up many networking prospects, as opposed to "I'm interested in opportunities in education" (or sales, health care, or personnel, etc.). If you can't define a field (or fields) at least be able to talk about a functional goal: e.g. "I'd like to find work that involves project management" (or creative problem-solving or working with numbers or training, etc.).
WHAT YOU BRING TO THE TABLE: Of course job seekers tend to think about searching for employment in terms of "Here's what I want". Of equal, or perhaps even greater, importance is what you have to offer, particularly in this feeble job market. Therefore, it's essential that your networking pitch include a strong statement about the assets you will bring to your employer. To elaborate on the "I'm interested in...." sentence in the paragraph above, your prospects of connecting with a job lead lead would be significantly enhanced if you stated "I'm interested in opportunities in education because I've seen how effective my training skills have been and I want to focus more on that aspect of work".
The third tier of networking consists of people with whom you have no pre-existing ability to connect. You need to create the connection yourself. This can involve that dreaded networking tool called cold calling. Inc. magazine has published a truly valuable article containing cold calling tips:
Other ways of creating opportunities for connection: career-oriented chat rooms, contacting alumni of your university, attending symposia or conventions, local job networking groups, and contacting prospects through your LinkedIn network. A few tips on third tier networking:
1. Don't apologize for contacting the person. You have something valuable to offer and the new contactyou're looking to cultivate may very well benefit from helping you out, either soon (because he/she knows a friend with an opening for which you might be perfect) or later (because that new contact can turn to you and ask a favor down the road.
2. Ask specific questions. "I'm wondering if you'd be willing to take a few minutes to answer two questions I have about your company / industry" is far more likely to receive a positive response than "I'm looking for work in your field and wanted to see if you were aware of any openings".
3. Do your homework. The more you know about the person (and the person's company or industry) you'll be contacting the smoother and more fruitful will be the conversation.