How to Network to Find a Job
You’ve heard it time and time again: Networking may be the most important skill you learn when it comes to your career success.
Savvy job seekers know the ins and outs of networking—and for good reason. By some estimates, a whopping 70–80 percent of job opportunities aren’t even posted publicly. Instead, people hire trusted acquaintances, friends, and family members that they’ve already vetted. What does that mean?
What is networking, anyway?
Networking can get a bad rep. Some people associate it with being pushy or self-serving. For introverts, this can be especially anxiety-inducing.
But fear not. Networking isn’t any of those things. Simply put, networking is relationship building.
Networking is a two-way street, so don’t think of it as a means to an end. Instead, think of it as building a community. Assembling a tribe. It’s constantly in flux, and it’s mutually beneficial. So if you feel a little squirmy about “using” people to get a job, remember that networking done correctly means having a genuine interest in giving as much as receiving.
Forming new relationships and building trust does require putting yourself out there, and that can be intimidating. But the spectrum of networking is broad enough to accommodate all types of people, and it doesn’t have to involve making the rounds with a handful of business cards, sparkling cocktail in hand.
The best way to start networking
If you want to network, you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone. While connecting with family and friends is a great start, you’ll need to cast a wide net if you want to be successful.
Start by following these groups on social media and networking sites like LinkedIn. Then, reach out to individuals for informational interviews over coffee. Be honest and focus on forming genuine connections. Additionally, you can cultivate your current network by reaching out and staying in touch while seeking new opportunities. And if you are comfortable mingling and mixing, attending networking events and career fairs is a great way to boost your exposure and grow your network.
Seven tips on how to network to find a job:
- Treat networking like a full-time job.
They say your job search is a full-time role, and the same goes for networking. Networking is a marathon, not a race. Plot out a set number of hours per week to commit to networking, whether it’s reaching out to congratulate someone on a new job, grabbing a coffee with a former teammate, or attending an actual networking event. You should be doing some form of networking every week.
- Set small goals.
Maybe you’re more of an introvert, and you’re still not sold on the idea of putting yourself out there to meet new people. Rather than signing up for a local networking event, dreading it, and dragging yourself there only to feel anxious and uncomfortable for three hours straight, commit to one small milestone. Make a three-handshake goal. Once you’ve introduced yourself to three people, call it a day. Then, make it four next time. If you’re an extrovert who’s really bad at time management, the same concept applies. Set a goal to send just three emails and comment on one social media post per week. Setting small, achievable goals allows you to cultivate current relationships and build new ones over time, making the process more manageable.
- Develop a personal brand statement.
Think of a personal brand statement like your own personal elevator speech or mission statement. It says who you are and what you’re all about. It’s not that you have to recite it like a robot every time you shake hands with someone. Instead, having an established brand statement and familiarizing yourself with it helps you quickly communicate your value during fast-paced events like job fairs, where face time might be limited.
- Keep it real.
It’s obvious when someone is at a networking event just to get a job or internship. Your goal should be fostering and building relationships, and you should take this mindset into every networking interaction. Walking up and interrupting someone mid-discussion to shove your resume in her face and recite your biggest achievements is a real turnoff. Instead, let conversations flow organically and try to learn something about the other person. Some people hit it off immediately, while others need to work at it over time. That’s okay. Professional relationships are unique, each with their own purpose and dynamic.
- Be professional.
Every time you interact with someone, whether in person or online, you’re networking. You always want to make a good impression. This goes beyond dressing appropriately for a networking event and extends to commenting and posting on social media—because you never know who’s following a post. If you do attend a casual happy-hour networking event, keep the drinking to a minimum (think nursing the same beer the entire time) or skip the booze altogether in favor of water. A sure way to alienate and embarrass yourself is to be the person known as “that guy who got really drunk at the community foundation’s networking night last year.”
- Don’t wait.
Are you just starting to think about getting a job or internship? Do you have a few free hours every week? Now’s the time to start networking. If you wait until you need something, your networking interactions will be less genuine and more harried. By connecting with people now, you’ll feel more comfortable reaching out when you do need assistance down the road because you’ve already fostered the relationship. It pays to be proactive, and it’s never too early.
- Don’t rely on the Internet.
Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? It suggests that 20 percent of the work you do will yield 80 percent of the results you get. This is definitely true when it comes to networking versus blindly applying to roles online. That’s not to say online job searches are worthless; you just don’t want to spend eight hours a day on them. Choose what you apply to carefully, and before you click apply, see if you know anyone who works (or worked) at the company. Networking is proven effective if done diligently, strategically, and thoughtfully.
How to maintain and expand your network
Remember, the best way to network is to integrate it into your daily life. Simply reach out and stay connected.
You can maintain your current network by keeping in touch through social media and dropping a line every so often. If you see something you think would be of interest to someone you know, send them an email. It can be as casual as, “Hey! I know you’re a big Harry Potter fan. Did you see they’re having a Hogwarts-themed dinner in Kansas City next week? Thought I’d pass it along! Hope you and your team are doing well. Take care!” Taking these little steps to tend to your professional relationships shows that you’re engaged in the interests of others, that you care, and that you’re someone to consider if an opportunity comes up.
Another step in the right direction: Since networking works best for all involved when it’s authentic, learning about others is vital. It will give you the seeds you need to grow a network based on trust and commitment. Sure, expanding your network can take a bit of time, but the payoff can be huge.
Knowing how to network is a non-negotiable for today’s job seekers. All signs point to networking as one of the most efficient ways to get a job and grow a career. So, what are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present to start planning for your future.
NPR. (2011). A Successful Job Search: It’s All About Networking. [online] Available at: http://www.npr.org/2011/02/08/133474431/a-successful-job-search-its-all-about-networking