Despite the vast number of recruitment companies, the mighty power of LinkedIn and a whole host of other directly advertised job roles, a key truth of job hunting is that your next appointment is often achieved through your contacts and networks, rather than some formalized recruitment process.
You should be buoyed by this notion, because networking puts you firmly in the driving seat rather than someone waiting at the end of the phone, or for an email response to your online application!
Done well, networking can help you find a job, widen your horizons and provide an opportunity to build long-term trusting relationships with key people of importance. With a little bit of help and some structured thinking, you’ll also be surprised by just how broad your network already is.
1. Be clear about your purpose
If you want to define networking you might say it’s the process of connecting to other people to build high-quality professional or social relationships. It is best done with a purpose – to learn from others, to ask to be connected to people you don’t yet know, to find a direct route into an employer you’re interested in.
Before you consider reaching out to others to connect to build your network, it’s important that you know why you are making contact. This might seem like an obvious statement, but having clear intent and purpose will likely yield better responses from people, than being a bit vague as to your intentions. For example, your purpose might simply be:
“I need another job, and quick.”
Very clear and concise – but perhaps not so compelling for the person you are seeking help from. Instead, this statement clarified and reframed might land with more impact:
“I’m redundant from my current job in six weeks time. I’m looking to build a better network to help me with my job search. I respect you and think I could learn from you over a 30-minute coffee and catch-up”.
Still clear and concise, but this time the person you want to connect to is front and centre. Here is another purpose:
“I’ve been out of work for some time. I’m struggling to get my voice heard (and my CV seen) with online recruiters. I’m trying a different approach through networking and would really appreciate and value any wisdom you’d be willing to pass on.”
So, before you jump into building your network, what’s your purpose?
2. Work out your current network
So, you now have a clear purpose behind your networking efforts. The next step is to think about your current network. Not all people you know are the same – the help you get from a family friend, for example, might be very different from the help you get from an old colleague who you now consider a mentor. At Notebook Mentor we think there are at least five different networking ‘types’ to consider.
Friends and Family
Family members, friends, close acquaintances. People who will automatically and unconditionally give you their love and support.
People well connected who always seem to know what’s going on. People who know and influence lots of people.
People with expert knowledge and experience who are willing to share what they know.
People who will help you develop, point out your strengths and gaps and keep you challenged and grounded.
Anyone who encourages and inspires you to action and growth.
Of course, these categories aren’t mutually exclusive and someone may be both a friend and mentor. To start, think about finding unique individuals for each category, as this will help the exponential growth of your network.
Your first job is to name three people who you already know, who fit into one of each of the categories. This takes careful thinking, so take your time. Do your best to find your first fifteen connections.
3. Get properly prepared
The next step is to formalize asking for help. We say ‘formalize’ because you’re not asking for casual, informal support – this is serious stuff and you need people to take it seriously. This might also influence your decisions on the people you reach out to.
Before you speak to anyone, you should prepare your case.
Firstly, know who you are to the person. Find a reason why they might support you and be willing to state it. For example: “I consider you to be a friend and trusted work colleague. You are someone with decades of professional experience behind you. You seem to know a lot of people and I’d really welcome drawing on that strength.” It’s important not to be shy about your reasons. Most people you approach will appreciate your honesty and will likely be flattered by how you regard them.
Secondly, set a goal people will relate to. Why might someone feel compelled to support you? For example: “Do you remember when you re-trained? This is what I’m intending to do. I believe I’m worthy of a chance to try something new and I think hearing about your experiences could help me stay positive and focused.”
Finally, first identify and seek out the genuine and time generous people in your network.
4. Get started
Once you have formalized your request for help, and have privately answered the questions above, set up time in your diary to have your networking conversation. This can be done over technology of course, but nothing beats a face-to-face catch-up. In times of social distancing, choose your venue carefully and be willing to be flexible to the needs of those you are reaching out to. If you do connect via technology, try and ensure you have a good video link, so you can clearly see the person on the other end of the line.
While it takes a bit of time and effort, it’s worth thinking about and preparing for your first few meetings (at least until you get into the swing of things). For example, you might want to think about how you want to structure the session:
Personal introductions – you, followed by the person you have asked to connect with.
Your networking goals – your networking goal/s, what the person means to you and how they might be able to help.
Listening to the person’s views on your predicament – giving your connection plenty of airtime to speak. There’s nothing more annoying than being asked for your help only to sit on a call and be talked at!
Asking questions of clarification – discussing ideas and ways forward.
5. Extend your network
The other key opportunity in your first networking session is to ask your connections to connect you to three people they know, in any of the five networking categories. This has the potential to grow your network quickly and to introduce you to people you know less well or not at all.
When reaching out to these recommended ‘supporters’ be sure to mention the person who recommended them and be willing to give them the option to say ‘no’. If you don’t get a good vibe from someone, or it’s been weeks and they haven’t responded, re-connect once, but don’t hassle them. Chances are they are not able to be time generous. Don’t take it personally.
6. Play the 7 degrees of separation game
There’s an old saying that suggests you are only 7 steps or degrees away from somebody or something you want. So if you want to find a connection in company x, someone you know will know someone who knows someone, who knows someone…directly connected to this employer.
As you build your network, do your homework on the types of companies you’d like to work for. Work on finding 7 connections (hopefully less) that will bring you closer to someone working in this company. As you connect to people don’t be afraid to ask them to recommend you personally. These recommendations can be on social media platforms or directly with people who might help you.
7. Stay positive
It’s important that you remain open, positive and optimistic with people you connect to. While you might express your frustrations or share tales of woe about recruiters who never called you back, try and put yourself in the shoes of the person who is generously giving up their time. Someone who is engaging and upbeat is someone far easier to recommend than someone who is negative and downbeat. Think of everyone you meet as a prospective employer and work hard to impress them. Even a smile goes a long way!