The Art of Networking
Since the majority of jobs are found through networking efforts, learning how to do it well is very important. Many people are not sure of exactly how to network or feel uncomfortable with the idea. Negative connotations of networking such as making cold calls, delivering a slick sales pitch or asking for a job, make many resist the idea. However, by learning just a few simple techniques, anyone become a great networker.
The goal of networking is to minimize the degree of separation between yourself and what you want by having career-related conversations. Essentially, networking allows you to explore options by talking with other people who have interests similar to your own, asking for professional advice and opinions and informing others of your future goals. Networking is not asking for a job. Simply asking about job openings prompts a yes or no answer, which limits your ability to learn more about an occupation, industry or employer.
Steps to Networking
First Level Contacts
Concentrating on trying to access the CEO of an organization is not a good first step. Professionals at the top of the company do not have the time, energy or interest to assist you. Instead, talk to everyone you know to see if they are or know someone affiliated with your area of interest. First Level Contacts can include friends, professors, neighbors, parents, people at your church, or the career resources staff at your college or university.
Second Level Contacts or Referrals
Based on information gathered from your first level contacts, list all of the referrals given and potential employers to which you could gain some access. Using a spreadsheet to track all pertinent contact information and referrals given can be very useful. Rank these referrals in order of interest, so you aren’t overwhelmed with too much information and can prioritize your time.
Part One: Communicate your appreciation
Immediately send thank you notes to your initial contacts and referrals. At this time, it is appropriate to mention, if the subject didn’t already arise, that you are or will be actively looking for a job or internship.
Part Two: Develop a reciprocal relationship
Because a goal of networking is to build relationships over time, stay in touch with your contacts every few months to update them on your status and to inquire if they have heard of any useful news. Be certain to do this in a neutral, positive way and only if the person seems open to an on-going relationship. Always try to reciprocate by offering your contact any information of value to their career. People are always more apt to help others when they may also benefit.
A Few Words of Caution
Networking is a productive use of your time, but it is very time consuming and the payoff does not always happen overnight. Keep in mind, however, that this process does produce results, since over 80% of people find their positions through networking. Also, remember that it is not uncommon for an informational interview to turn into a job interview. Always be prepared to respond to the invitation from a contact to launch into an interviewee mode.