“Networking”: the term is everywhere in job search advice, but how exactly do you go about it? Get started with these three pointers:
The first step in any networking endeavor is to meet and establish relationships with others in your industry. To do so effectively, you need to consider three questions:
What am I looking for? A network’s size does not determine its worth. Social media has made it possible to form hundreds of associations overnight, but keeping in touch with them all is impossible. Instead, meet as many people as possible, and narrow it down by value later. Ask yourself questions like:
Who should I add first? Think back to the apprenticeship, training, or relevant coursework that prepared you for your career. Contact mentors and professors, especially those who inspired or pushed you to succeed. Then look up your peers from that time and reconnect with those whose current positions are relevant to your job search.
How can I meet people? Use both on- and offline methods. The ability to reach out frequently via the Internet is great, but you will be more memorable if a recruiter can put a face to your name. Ways to connect in person range from joining speed-networking events to simply spending time in the same places as others who work in your field.
You might also join a local group or professional association, which will help you both make and maintain relationships through regular meetings. Sites like MeetUp and Yahoo Groups can help you find one near you.
Wherever you go to grow your network, the most important thing to remember is that each professional link is a two-way street. You have to be completely prepared to give time and energy to every contact. And be proactive! Don’t wait for the other person to reach out first; take the lead and contact them.
Once you’ve made connections, you need to keep in touch and remain relevant. Your network needs to think of you when that position you want opens up, so make sure you…
You can use social media to stay in your network’s thoughts. Twitter hashtags are good for becoming part of the larger conversation occurring in your industry. Anyone can access your tweets, so Twitter develops your wide-scale public presence.
LinkedIn is the platform people usually think of for online networking, however. You should definitely invest your time and effort into creating and updating your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn Groups are invitation-only, and so offer a more private way to present yourself online than Twitter. Depending on your security settings, Facebook can be either a semi-private or public means of networking.
It is essential to realize that your professional network is a series of give-and-take relationships. You can’t just dutifully send one article per month and then demand a reference. You need to be sincere or your contacts will feel used and may cut ties with you. Be honest and helpful, and you will benefit as well. When your network succeeds, your influence grows!
This does not mean, however, that you should avoid asking for what you need. The main reason you built your network was to support your career, so use it. Be polite and straightforward when asking for a favor.
The first steps in building your network can be tricky, but with hard work and determination, you will secure a valuable addition for your job search toolbox.