Using Networking to Help your Job Search: 8 steps to Connect with Others
For many people, it's just okay (ho-hum) to get another job. I've had lots and lots of jobs: I've worked as a dish machine operator, a sandwich maker, an agricultural worker, a door-to-door canvasser, a pianist, a secretary, a movie usher/cashier, an educator, a software developer, and the list goes on.
When I finally "woke up" and realized I wanted to be orchestrating my job search (and my life), I started to think about how to best look for work that I truly loved and felt good at. For me, this meant connecting with people, because in my line of work (web design and development), other people help me find opportunities.
If you find yourself suddenly unemployed, if you're looking for work, if you seek a new job in a new industry or town, or if you are just in a midst of transition and looking to identify your skill set, here are 8 steps for making the most of your networking:
1) Don't Panic.
Every year, there are trillions of dollars worth of economic activity transacted. Chances are that whatever you are selling/looking for, someone else is buying/hiring. Your task is to widen your net as much as possible to find the decision-maker who will help you/employ you.
2) Understand the importance of acquaintances.
Most people within your tight circle of friends will not be able to help you as much as someone you know on a less intimate basis. This is because you share many of the same friends, job opportunities, associates, and connections within your circle.
If you're looking for something outside of that circle, you'll expand your reach to find people who you actually don't know that well, but who still want to help you (and most people are willing to help you).
This would be someone like a person in your alumni networking group, another parent from your childrens' athletic teams, people from church, synagogue or temple, people from your high school reunion or from further back, as well as people in trade groups, chambers of commerce, and industry membership organizations. Make a list of 25 different groups where you can start your networking, and then begin connecting within those groups.
3) Expand your online network.
Many of your past coworkers, teammates, and classmates maintain a profile on Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter. The search function on these sites will help you find specific people or contacts. Use these technology tools to assist you in your efforts!
A connection made years ago may convert to "someone knows someone who knows someone who's hiring." So if you're looking for work, the number of connections you "tap into" will help you identify even more potential leads.
4) Expand your in-person network.
Setting up appointments and meeting someone on a daily basis gives you an opportunity to build your routine around specific events. Having a set routine helps you identify goals and to keep your job search in the front of your mind.
Your in-person networking might include: seeking networking breakfasts and lunches, setting up coffee dates with others in your community, attending http://www.BNI.com meetings or Chamber of Commerce events, identifying a nonprofit and getting involved with them, joining a board, or offering your services as a volunteer. The more people who know you (and can vouch for you), the better and easier it will be for you during your job search.
5) Maintain your network.
Facebook has an excellent "birthdays" feature, as well as a random friends list that appears on your profile. Use that to "ping" people, meaning reach out on a regular basis to the people in your network. People always appreciate if you're thoughtful enough to send them something relevant to their needs, like a link, a resource, or something that makes you think of them. Or just send a quick hello note: it will brighten someone's day.
Also consider using print mail and cutting out articles, sending cards, or just posting a quick note to your contacts. Handwritten mail is so infrequent these days that your message is sure to be opened.
6) Be thoughtful.
Few things are as offputting as someone who's only it in for themselves. No one wants to feel "used" for their job connections. What can you offer to someone in exchange for them agreeing to meet you, help you, or share their knowledge with you? At the very least, you will write a thank-you note. You might even end up with a lifelong business partner, associate, or friend, so keep your options open and treat others as you'd like to be treated yourself.
7) Consider Consulting.
Within your existing network, ask people to think of 3 other people who could use your services, and make sure to follow up. It's possible that someone you know right now has a connection to someone else who needs what you're seeking. Your task is to identify what you offer, make a concise list of that, and then circulate that list to as many people in your network as possible.
8) Specify, Specify, Specify.
I stress the importance of this over and over. People will help you only if you know what you need and ask for it. Identify who or what you are looking for, using as exact language as possible.
I recommend you craft a 10-second description of what you do or what you're seeking. Then when connecting with others, use that 10-second speech as your 'elevator pitch.' For example, a question about "a good coffee place" is harder to answer than a question about finding a coffe place that's "fair trade, organic, near the corner of Market and Main." Treat your job search the same way.
What specifically do you need? If you don't yet know, go on some informational interviews to understand what's available.