When many of us think of networking, we picture handing out hundreds of business cards and making small talk at industry events. With an image like that, it’s no wonder many people don’t like networking, or feel that its a waste of their time.
At it’s core networking isn’t about meeting as many people as possible or getting the number of that one person who can get you a job. It’s about growing reciprocal relationships. Of course, networking is a key part of your job search strategy, and it’s also how you can access the hidden market of jobs that are never publicly advertised. But with a focus on forming meaningful connections, helping others and providing real value, your networking will be more successful and more enjoyable.
1. Start with the Low-Hanging Fruit
While your networking should focus on quality over quantity, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the easy opportunities. The start of your network is everyone you already know – family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and anyone else you interact with through the day.
If you’re looking for a job, let people know what you do and what opportunities you’re interested in. Even if you aren’t looking just now, you can plant seeds by talking about your job, your successes and the kinds of work you would like to do.
This is a great opportunity to perfect your elevator pitch. Practice describing your job, your expertise and accomplishments in just a few sentances. This skill will come in handy as you network in your industry and connect with employers.
2. Grow Your Professional Network with the right goals in mind
Of course, at some point you will want to focus on expanding your professional network. Joining an association or attending industry events is a great start, but only if you come to the table with a plan. Be clear about what your goals are, who you want to meet, and how you will follow up afterwards.
Part of what makes professional networking so difficult and unappealing to many people, is that it feels selfish and calculated. How can you form a quality relationship if you’re only focused on what you can get from the other person? The answer is to flip the script and focus on what you can do for other people. Look for connections that you can help, or bring people together who can help each other. You’ll still make valuable connections, but you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience and leave a much better impression.
3. Target Employers and Demonstrate your Ability
Once you’ve identified a job or organization that you’re interested in, your networking can take a more focused approach. Research the company and see if there is anyone in your network who can connect you to their staff. LinkedIn will be your best friend here. Don’t limit yourself to the hiring manager – the connection could be with a member of the board of directors, the parent of child who attends the school, or an alumni.
If your application is unsolicited, think about ways that you can offer the employer something – a solution to a challenge they are facing, a competitor analysis that you’ve prepared, or an action plan for a project you could initiate if you worked for them. This will help differentiate your from other candidates, and demonstrate your ability and initiative.
4. Reach out to Recruiting Agencies
Public institutions will often use a recruiting firm for their higher level hires. Research which firms they are using, and contact the agency directly. If they think you are a suitable match, they will support your candidacy and help you with your application.
You may also want to identify a few recruiting firms that specialize in your field. Submit a resume and let them know the kind of work you’re interested in. Most recruiting firms won’t do your job hunt for you (although a few specialize in this and are paid by the job seeker), but they will keep an eye out for opportunities that match your profile.
5. Give Before You Get
Networking is like any kind of relationship building – you need to put as much in as you get out. Before you start asking for favours, look for opportunities to deepen your connection and do something for the other person.
This can be as small as passing on an interesting article, or phoning them up to ask how a project is going. Offer your expertise, look over a lesson plan, or share resources. Not only will they be happy to return the favour later on, but they’ll be able to describe your skills and character from personal experience.
6. Make Their Job Easy
When you network, you are asking other people to be your advocate. You’ll want to make this as easy for them as possible, by being clear about what you do, what you’re looking for, and how they can help. Make sure your key skills, experiences and accomplishments are on LinkedIn, or a personal portfolio website that they can easily find and share. Keep this information up to date. When someone in your network does find an opportunity for you, they can easily pass your information forward.