If networking is so critical to a successful job search, what do I need to do to be a successful networker?
Networking is Not Asking for a Job. You should never be asking your networking contacts for a job. Most people won’t want to talk to you if that is what you are asking for in your request. You should be leveraging contacts to learn about the companies they work for, to understand their specific role and the qualifications for that role, to explore the culture of the organization and to gain insights into career paths and hiring processes.
Networking is a Two Way Relationship. Networking isn’t simply what people can do for you. It should be a reciprocal relationship to be successful. Think about opportunities to help your contact. Can you make an introduction for them? Maybe you can share an interesting article. Did you attend an interesting professional meeting you can share?
Don’t be Afraid to Ask. Do not let shyness paralyze your networking efforts. Start with people you know. Expand your reach gradually. If you are a student, leverage that. Many professionals will give a student a few minutes. Most alumni will help a fellow alum if asked. What is the worst that can happen? Some may decline or at least defer your request but that is ok. Keep asking because more will say “yes” than “no.
Always Say Thank You. While it is true that most people enjoy talking about themselves and their careers, they do have other demands on their time. If they are gracious enough to share time with you, always take time to send a handwritten thank you note. It makes a very positive impression and helps you stand out from the crowd.
Leverage Linked In. Linked In makes networking much easier. The true power of the tool is not just in who you know but who you contacts know. Search for connections at your target companies or in your desired field. Leverage your connections by asking for an introduction to their relevant connections. Expand the power of Linked In by leverage groups. Look for groups such as your college alumni group or a former employer. Identify groups based on your career interests. Groups give you access to an even broader group of contacts and the discussions can be enlightening.
It’s Not All about You. You should never do all the talking in a networking meeting. You are there so learn so be a good listener. Have open ended questions prepared to ask you contact to provide insights into your areas of interest. Do you homework. They expect you to know something about the company in advance.