Networking is a time-honored tradition that most people apply every day without knowing it. View it as making contacts, creating relationships, finding out about essentials, even as making friends. Networking is based on the premise that we're all humans and need each other. This is as true in business as it is in other areas of your life. You may need to ask me for ideas or referrals about getting a job, but I'll gladly reciprocate because I know that at some point, I may need to call on you for something. At that point, whether the help is for me or someone else, I'll expect you to reciprocate. It's that simple. You lob the ball over the net, and it comes back to you.
Networking for a job can be fun. Consider it today's answer to the lost art of conversation and its cousin, letter writing. It's all about communicating—making phone calls, conducting information interviews in person or writing letters—to learn if your contacts can refer you to anyone who might want to hire someone with your skills.
The first step is to know what you want to do. Before you pick up the phone to begin networking, take a moment to collect your thoughts. Ask yourself, what do I want? If it's help, be specific. Do you need ideas, names or introductions? Make a list of the items that will help you stay focused during your conversation. Most people really want to help you, a new graduate, with your job search, but first, they must understand what you want. Then they can determine how best to help you.
When you're just starting out in a career, it's easy to be intimidated by the concept of networking. After all, you're a new graduate and your knowledge of business may be limited, and your contacts are likely to be already established professionally. What do you have to offer that they might value and why would they make time for you?
It's simple. Most seasoned business people understand the concept of networking. They know that what goes around comes around. Everyone has had to start somewhere. We all remember the folks who took time to counsel, guide and direct us on our first forays into the business world. It's a debt that's never really repaid, unless it's through helping someone else just starting a career.
Another way to say this is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If you want to have your phone calls returned, return phone calls. If you want help with your career, you must be willing to help others.
To be a successful networker, you also must take contacts' suggestions. If someone provides a lead—an idea or referral name—follow up on it, especially if the person has agreed to "pave the way" for you by making an introductory call. You aren't obligated to accept a position from a referral, but you are expected to follow up. You're also expected to report back to your original contact to say thanks. During that call, you can recount your progress and ask for additional leads.
If you're in the throes of a job search, your first priority should be networking. Create a list of people you know and ask them for ideas, referrals and contacts. Generate a buzz about your abilities and your job search, and before you know it, people will be calling you for networking ideas.
After you've accepted a job, it's easy to heave a sigh of relief and assume your networking days are over—at least until your next job search. Think again. Every contact you make while working is a potential jewel in your networking crown.
That means if you landed the job of your dreams, let networking contacts know that your search has ended and where you're working, and thank them for their assistance. Add their names to your business holiday card list. Call contacts occasionally to see how they're doing with no agenda other than keeping in touch. Let them know what you're up to and do a little self-promotion. This isn't the time to complain or gossip. Maybe there's something they need that you can help them with. Visualize yourself building a large bank of networking good will and making regular deposits.
Networking is a lot like flossing your teeth. For it to do you any good, you have to do it regularly. Keep your network alive and well so that if and when there's a change in the wind, you're ready for it. It takes time to rev up your network's engine if it's been cold or idle for too long. You want to keep it humming so you can quickly shift into high gear. Today's job market is volatile and employees are changing jobs often; one of them could be your boss. You may need your network sooner rather than later.
7. Look for opportunities others might miss.
Networking isn't just about finding people who can help you locate a job. Sometimes the most valuable networking you can do is within your company. Perhaps your employer sponsors a charity ball. Other employees might consider this a real groaner, but it's a great opportunity to meet senior managers and their spouses and to support a cause the company considers worthy. Or perhaps a senior executive from your firm is giving a luncheon speech to a local organization. Not only can you learn from this presentation, but you'll be providing him or her with support and building a bond for the future. You'll also be adding new contacts to your network.
Suppose you visited a contact to conduct an information interview—a short, friendly question-and-answer session designed to help you learn more about a profession or company. Your contact gives you the names of several referrals. Before you leave, ask permission to use your contact's name as the original source.He or she may want to contact the referrals first, which will make your calls proceed more smoothly. But the main reason for asking permission is courtesy. When you mention names, you're capitalizing on your contact's rank and reputation within the business world, so you want to make sure you have his or her knowledge and approval.
If a busy executive takes time to meet you and assist with your job quest, acknowledge the help you receive with a handwritten note. This lets him or her know that you understand and appreciate the his or her effort and contribution. It also allows you to provide a short progress report and feedback about the referrals. Last but not least, it paves the way for future contact.
Don't think that executives or others in authority positions are uninterested or unreachable. Many senior executives are delighted to be contacted and want to share the knowledge they've acquired over the years. Because of their seniority, they may be isolated and appreciate the chance to impart wisdom or learn something new from a prospective graduate. And when you reach a pinnacle of your own career, remember to keep your network fresh and alive. It's fun, plus you never know when it may come in handy.