By Matt Lowney
Networking is an integral part of any successful job search. Most job seekers are aware of the need to network, but don't know how to effectively begin the process. Successful networking involves making contacts with people who can help you, particularly by introducing you to potential employers and job leads. The more contacts you make the better your chances of discovering new opportunities. While finding someone of influence that can introduce you to several key contacts is ideal, your network of contacts should also include almost anyone, even people who are outside of your industry. Basically the idea is that you never know who someone else might know that can help you. The key to effective networking, though, is not to approach people with the mentality of “how can you help me?” No one wants to be put in a situation where they feel imposed upon. Instead, you should approach potential contacts from the perspective of “how can we help each other?” or better yet “how can I help you?” People are much more likely to help you if they don't feel like you are just using them for their contacts. Below is a list of ideas of how and where to network.
Where to network? Networking can literally happen anywhere, but you need to set yourself up for success. Perhaps you aren't comfortable approaching strangers, even if you know they are a center of influence. If this is the case, you should make a point to attend and become active in trade associations and formal networking organizations. By becoming involved you can start out conversations by talking about trends in the industry and wrap by saying you are pursuing new career opportunities. Even go so far as to ask if they would make a call on your behalf. Most people are glad to help someone they believe in.
When and how to network? My first thought is to say that networking is something that you should do everywhere and at all times. However, for most job seekers the thought of striking up a social conversation with a perfect stranger is intimidating, so I would encourage you to use your personal network of friends and family to make introductions for you. This way, someone has made a warm introduction for you.
What to say? First impressions are key. If you want someone to be part of your network and refer you to potential employers and other contacts, they first have to believe in you. Make sure your first meeting is in a comfortable setting. In addition, make sure you stay on topic unless the other person meanders off course and wants to get to know you on a personal level. Be professional, but don't be over eager. Since I'm a recruiter, I meet with candidates frequently out of my industry, because I know they want me to refer them to other recruiter friends of mine. I'm glad to help, but don't appreciate candidates who are overly pushy or seem desperate. I won't refer a candidate to a friend that I don't believe in, because referring a poor candidate reflects poorly on me.
Matt Lowney is a corporate recruiter, radio host, and career consultant specializing in the areas of healthcare and information technology. He can be reached at email@example.com for additional information about his services.