A strong professional network doesn’t usually form by accident. Network building takes work, time, patience, and empathy.
As you step into the job search marketplace and share your plans with your family and friends, you’ll probably receive a deluge of advice on the subject of “networking.” Everyone around you, happily employed or not, will eagerly tell you that success lies in social connections, not experience and skills, and of course “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know!” In many ways, this is true; social connections are certainly valuable during your job search. But it’s not exactly advice. There’s a difference between knowing what should be done and knowing how to do it.
Yes, you’ll need to know people. You’ll go far if you can rely on a huge population of close professional friends and avid supporters who will happily work behind the scenes on your behalf. But where are you supposed to find all these fans and contacts? Surrounding yourself with a powerful “network” isn’t a simple act of will. Network building takes time, patience, and strategic goal setting. As you hit the job search trail, ask yourself a few questions: 1) “What do I need from my network?” 2) “How can I meet and connect with more people in my industry?” and 3) “What clear and specific steps should I take next?” As you answer these questions, keep a few considerations in mind.
Create a list of people you already know.
Any person can become a valuable career connection, and any random conversation with a stranger (or an existing friend) can reveal a link between something you want and a person who can help you get it. Potential career contacts are all around you, whether you know it or not. But since you can’t do anything (just yet) about the connections you can’t see, start by making a list of the ones that you can. List every person in your industry who might be able to help you land a job. This list might include your former boss, your former coworkers, your college advisor, a favorite professor, your friend’s parents, your parents friends, or a mentor. For now, don’t focus on HOW they might help you; just write down their names.
Set a goal.
Establish a timeline, and then set a networking goal that you would like to meet within that time frame. For example, “meet and chat with at least five new people who work in this industry”, or “Schedule at least three informational interviews by the end of the month.” You can also keep your goals very specific, for example, “Reach out to Jamie’s friend by email and ask her for help and advice”, or “Attend at least three industry networking events by November 12th.” For some job seekers, it helps to set one large goal (“Double my contacts list by the fall”) and then break that goal down into a set of smaller milestones.
Job fairs, seminars, industry gatherings, conventions, and even parties can all provide excellent opportunities to establish social connections. Search for these events and schedule as many as you can while you’re on the hunt for work.
When you have contacts, hold onto them.
Keep in touch with your existing connections, and when you make a new friend or establish a new relationship, put some effort into maintaining it. This doesn’t always have to involve work or shop talk. Sometimes just clicking “like” on someone’s Facebook photo or sending them a holiday card can remind them that you exist. The most effective way to maintain contact and stay in touch is simple: identify ways to help others reach their own goals, and follow through. If you can provide information, support, advice, or material help, do so. Don’t expect anything in return, but recognize that karma is real and what goes around comes around.
For more guidelines that can help you build a maintain a strong professional network during the course of your career, turn to the resources available at LiveCareer.