March 8, 2011
Quick Tips for Successful Career Networking
Written by Rachel Eddins
Networking is about making connections with people.
Networking is a helpful strategy for career research, your job search and building business relationships with others. It’s about connecting with like-minded people to establish relationships.
This article looks at the benefits of networking, and gives you key actions to network more effectively.
Networking can bring up fearful feelings for many job seekers.
Essentially, networking is simply communicating with others and focusing on how you can help them.
Keeping this mindset can help you shift from feeling anxious about asking for help to confident about building relationships with others.
How Networking Can Help Your Career & Job Search
Career networking involves staying in touch with your contacts whether through online methods such as LinkedIn, social methods such as professional organization meetings or conferences, or personal methods such as lunch or informal meetings.
There are a variety of job search strategies; however, networking results in an average of 60% to 80% of all job offers. In the job search, the majority of people find jobs through their network. But, not the people they know directly – the 2nd or 3rd level of their network.
This means that it’s not who you know, but who they know, that can help you find your next opportunity.
However, this doesn’t mean that other people “found” jobs for them. You still have to take an active role in your job search.
Networking opens up opportunities for you that you may not have known about otherwise. Networking also leads to a “warm lead”. Employers may be more likely to hire someone referred to them directly.
Networking is About Being Helpful
Ask others what is going on with them and offer what is going on for you.
Ask or offer how you can help others first before you ask anything in return.
Be an asset to others and you will be remembered. The key is to communicate and focus on the relationship.
A career counselor can help you clarify your goals and practice effective communication strategies and techniques so you can feel confident and at ease.
Career & Business Networking
Done effectively, networking can help you to identify new career and business directions that suit you, and to research and reality-test your ideas. It can also help you to get hired for a position you’d love.
Research indicates that as few as 20% of job openings are advertised. Networking (via an executive search firm, word of mouth referral, or someone’s neighbor’s sister) accounts for the remaining 80% of applications. The job is often filled by someone known by someone else.
Done properly, networking can even help you to have a job created for you where one never existed.
If you have a business or are in the process of establishing one, networking is a powerful tool to attract clients and customers. Networking accounts for approximately 87% of business in the marketplace today, according to networking specialist Robyn Henderson.
It can generate more business and career opportunities than any advertising campaign could ever hope to achieve. The old adage – it’s not what you know, but who you know – or more to the point, who knows you – still holds true.
Particularly if you are providing a professional or personal service, networking gives people the chance to discover that they like you, and everyone likes to do business with someone they like.
Networking can help you to build your visibility, create alliances and generate referrals. Once people know what you do, see you have a worthwhile product or service, and trust you, they feel happy recommending others to you.
Many people feel uncertain about networking, but networking is a life skill you can develop.
Here are 5 actions taken by successful networkers:
- Participate – Network in fertile ground, places where you can connect with potential clients, customers, employers and referral sources. Conferences, associations and networking events are ideal, especially if you arrive early and leave late to maximize time to connect with others. Don’t overlook the people in your existing networks, such as family, friends, past colleagues or service providers. They may not be potential business contacts but they may know others who are.
- Communicate – Networking is the epitome of ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing, because it’s based on talking with people about what you do, and finding out how you can serve them. Basically, you are building trust through communication. If you don’t talk to people, you can’t build trust and rapport with them. Learn how to explain what you do in 60 seconds (this is a real art!). Be succinct, relevant and interesting. A big part of effective networking is learning about what other people do and finding out how you can serve them. So ask questions and listen attentively. Have heart-to-heart conversations with people.
- Reciprocate – This is the biggest secret of all the truly exceptional networkers. Dick Knowdell, a consummate networker who runs the Career Planning & Adult Development Network in the US, gives simple advice: Good networking is not about what others can do for you, but what you can do for them. Have an abundance mentality, and do things for others, not just to get something back but rather to help that person achieve their goals or solve their problems. Of course the ‘law of karma’ dictates the more you help others, the more likely others are to help you!
- Follow-up – The #1 reason people never reap results from their networking activities is that they fail to follow-up. Collecting business cards is totally useless if you don’t do anything with them. When you consider the cost involved, including your time, energy and opportunity cost in attending a networking function, it is of little use if you don’t bother to follow through and reap the benefits. With your established networks, maintain contact on a regular basis. If someone has helped you, send a personal thank you card.
- Practice – Preparation and practice are keys to good networking. If it’s not a skill with which you’re comfortable, you may benefit from coaching to improve your confidence and skills.
Below are some specific techniques you can employ and practice to make attending a networking event an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
How to make the most of networking events:
Decide why you want to attend.
What do you want to get out of this event? Is there a specific person you’d like to meet?
Are you looking for a certain service provider? Or are you simply wanting to network with others in your industry, to keep up to date with what is happening in the marketplace?
The clearer you are on why you are going, the more chance you will have of achieving your objective.
Take a moment to write down your thoughts… e.g. to meet other like-minded business professionals. To find people who might know potential customers or employers / clients for my services.
Decide on the logistics.
Do I have to block out time in my diary the hour before the function starts, to arrive on time? Will others I know be going? What is the dress code? Do I need to bring a change of clothes to work on the day?
Take plenty of business cards
A business card that clearly states your name, what you do and your contact details is imperative for effective networking.
Even if you are not currently employed or are looking to change your work, it is a smart idea to have a small number of cards printed with your name and contact details to exchange with others. Simple plain white cards, professionally printed, can be ordered for a low cost at many stationery suppliers.
In many Asian countries, business cards are called ‘name cards’ and it is said your card represent a summary of you. In these cultures it is considered etiquette to receive a person’s card with both hands, hold it, look at it, and put it on the table in front of you.
Always treat other people’s business cards with respect. Educate yourself about what is appropriate business etiquette in different cultures.
Prepare your ‘60 second pitch’
If you got into the lift with someone and they asked you what do you do – what would you say? If you can talk convincingly about the value of your business, product or service, you will motivate others to want to know more.
Even if you are job-hunting, you need to be prepared to answer this question. Nothing is more difficult at a networking function when someone says ‘What do you do?’ and you kind of well, sort of explain well, it’s sort of like ……..”
To describe your business or what you do in 60 seconds is a real art. Try a few versions and practice beforehand with a friend to get feedback on how you sound.
Arrive on time
Don’t stand around like a guest, waiting for something to happen, or someone to introduce you. Approach the event as if you are the host, greeting people yourself.
Introduce yourself and ask simple, ice-breaker questions like: is this is your first event? Are you a member here – if so, how do you find it? What do you do?
Practice your 60 second pitch and notice the response and feedback you receive.
Establish common ground
Start building relationships. Sometimes this isn’t about work, but another interest – e.g. where you live, children, films, etc.
- Have quality conversations rather than quantity. If there are 50 people at the event, don’t expect to speak to all. Be content with a quality conversation with 5 to 7 people, who the next day will look at your card and remember you and what you spoke about. And more importantly remember you the next time they see you.
Having heart to heart conversations with people means being in the moment, focusing on the person you are speaking to and listening attentively. Have quality conversations and you will remember things more easily.
Listen with your heart as well as your ears. Make eye contact, bring your focus to the person you are with and you will be surprised at the results.
Become a connector
At networking functions practice linking people together. Ask questions like, “What were you hoping to achieve from tonight’s function?” or “Did you have a specific objective for attending tonight?”
Get people talking about why they are there and then, if possible, connect them with the people they are looking for or if that is not possible, at least someone who may know someone.
This is a really valuable skill to master. Linking people with similar interests, potential business objectives and opportunities is also great fun and very satisfying.
Making a graceful exit
Usually social interaction goes through a natural conversational cycle, and as it winds down you can feel free to move on to talk to another.
You can wrap up a conversation by saying something like “I’ve enjoyed meeting you”, “I’ll look forward to seeing you at future evenings”, “Let’s talk later” or “Excuse me, I see someone I need to talk with. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
When you exchange contact details:
Use your business card and say: ‘I look forward to hearing from you in the future’.
Remember: You’re not closing a deal or making a sale. You’re starting a relationship!
Make notes on cards
After you meet a person and exchange cards, you may like to make a note on the back of their card. Include the date and place where you met and something that you remember about them. Preferably something you spoke about that was not work-related. e.g. golf, grandchildren, tennis.
Track separate networks
You may start a separate business card holder for each network that you belong to. After attending each meeting and exchanging business cards with a variety of people (making the notes on the back of their cards), you can then place their cards in this specific holder.
Then, when you are returning to that network, refresh your memory on who the people are by glancing through your specific holder.
You may also enter the contact details from the card of key prospects in your electronic database and make a note to reconnect with them in 30 to 45 days time.
Follow up after the event
Send a thank you card if someone has helped you, or do something nice for the people you meet.
One of the easy ways of making contact with people post-event is to send them a copy of an invitation to another event they may be interested in attending. This can be as simple as an email or fax: “Hi Mary, enjoyed our conversation at the recent function – here is the invitation I mentioned. Hope to connect with you again.”
Another may be sending an article that is relevant to the person’s business or profession. You may in fact collect a file full of these and forward them on as required.
Finally, have fun! Remember – Networking isn’t a quick fix. It is one of the time-consuming and longer-term marketing activities.
Although you may be lucky and make a contact anytime that will lead to immediate business or work, usually you need to spend time and energy on a regular basis building relationships.
Networking is like planting a garden: you need to plant and nurture the seeds, and it may take a bit of time until your investment bears fruit.
However, if you have a good product or service that the people you are networking with need and can afford to buy, time is on your side.
Networking provides visibility and familiarity, which combined with your personal integrity leads to credibility. So relax and enjoy connecting with others, whether the benefits are immediately apparent or longer-term.
Here are Some Tips on How to Make the Most of Career Networking:
- Make it easy for people to help you – have your personal introduction prepared and offer specific ways HOW others can help you. Include something unique, personal, or interesting about yourself so others will remember you.
- Know your strengths.
- Network even when you think you don’t need to.
- Don’t wait for people to come to you. Be proactive.
- Be more persistent than you think you need to be.
- Don’t internalize rejection.
- Don’t speak negatively about anyone.
- Be friendly and down-to-earth.
- Be helpful to others even if there’s no obvious direct benefit to you. Here’s how you can help me, how can I help you? Get known as an information clearinghouse, and thus a valuable resource for others.
- Stay in touch with people regularly. Occasionally call people just to say hello.
- Never leave home without business cards (or resumes).
- Sit next to strangers at events, not alone or just with people you know.
- Focus on names when you meet people.
- Learn and follow basic rules of business and social etiquette.
- Keep your goals in sight.
- It’s not “what you know” or “who you know”, but it is “who they know.” It takes patience – it takes time.
- It’s a learned skill – you are not a networking “type; practice often or try online networking such as LinkedIn.
- You have to believe. Networking works – up to 85% of people find their jobs through networking.
- You must be strategic – networking requires a strategy and plan: follow up and follow through.
- It requires diversity – don’t put all your eggs in a few baskets (need quantity of networking contacts and leads).
- Think creatively – don’t just make cold calls and say you’d like to network.
- Show integrity and reliability – honesty will be remembered.
- Take a break occasionally—don’t get overexposed.
- Keep a positive attitude!
How to Network Effectively for Career Opportunities and Advancement
Know What You Want
Before you begin networking, conduct a self-check to be sure of what you are seeking.
- Know your interests. Can you clearly state your career goals? The type of position you are seeking?
- Can you list five job skills and abilities that you do well?
- Do you know what is important to you in a working environment?
- Are you aware of your geographical preferences and limitations?
- Have you researched salary ranges and determined the salary range you will consider?
List of Contacts
Write down the names of people you know: friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, supervisors, people you have met through your participation in community organizations, professional organizations, school, etc.
Your list should include all types of people. Your objective is to develop a list as long as possible. At this point, do not worry about how you are going to contact these individuals, simply make the list.
Organizing Your List of Contacts
Review your list and determine who you should contact first. Decide whom to contact based on your career field.
If you have a specific location in which you are looking for a position, contact individuals in that area or individuals whom may have contacts in that area.
If you are not very comfortable with networking, start with those individuals that you feel most comfortable contacting. It is important to have a starting point.
- Cold call
- Letter & e-mail
Decide whom to contact first. During initial contacts, do not ask for a job, but simply ask for information about where positions may exist. Ask questions that get people talking about jobs and careers. Listen and take notes. Wait until your contact asks about you, then explain your situation in positive terms. Ask for suggestions or referrals.
Effective Networking Questions:
- How does my resume look?
- Do you have any advice or ideas for me?
- Are there any groups or professional organizations that I could become involved with?
- Are there any publications that I should read?
- How would you approach this job search?
- Who would you consider speaking to?
Maintaining the Relationship
Send a thank you letter to everyone who has assisted you, even if it is someone you know well. Let your contact know that you appreciate and value their suggestions and plan to take action on them. Keep your contact informed about the leads that you are getting from the information that they provided for you. You should maintain professional contact with your network even after you get a job. Your network can help you with career development throughout your life.
Remember the Basics
Don’t be pushy or demand others to help. Do your research. Don’t expect others to teach you what you can research yourself. When someone offers their assistance, offer something in return: a favor, an article, or the name of a contact.
Networking and Researching Resources
The following list is only a small sample of what is available to identify contacts or educate yourself in preparation for your job search. Find articles in trade journals relevant to the industries you will be networking in and amaze colleagues in your profession with your sophisticated level of knowledge. Identify professional organizations and seek out their local chapter offices and members. People will want to talk with you about your mutual interests in a profession or industry.
- Guide to American Directories
- Professional Associations
Want more help with your career?
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