To determine how to get to the next step in your career, you need an idea of where you are going. I often advise job seekers to build and prioritize a target list of companies where you want to work. This should in no way be limited to companies that you know personally or those you drive by each day. Where do you turn to help build your target list?
Linked In – Review your connections on Linked In to see where people you admire and respect are working. Look in your Linked In groups as well to see where fellow alumni or previous co-workers are now working. Make note of the companies that interest you. A first step in your research will be talking to your connections about their experiences at those companies.
Lists –Fortune and other magazines prepare multiple lists of the course of the year on leading companies by revenue, number of employees, work-life balance, etc. These may trigger your thinking but unless you are prepared to relocate other parts of the country or the world, these lists may be more frustration than assistance. Consider more local lists. Boston Business Journal includes lists in each weekly edition with an annual Book of Lists. Find the local lists for the area where you hope to work. You can look by industry, by size, etc. to identify companies of interest to you. Look online as well. Databases such as Hoovers allow to search with a radius of major cities by industry, size, etc. Keep an open mind. Many of the fastest growing companies are small to mid-sized firms that you may not be aware of today.
Competitors – As you start identifying companies of interest, do a little research and consider their competitors. They are in the same industry and may be a good fit for you as well.
Professional Associations – If you are clearly focused on a particular industry or business function, identify relevant professional associations. Attend meetings and see where other members work. Listen to how they talk about their work and the companies they work for to see if there is something of interest to you.
Social Networking – Do not overlook families and friends. They may work at interesting companies or may know people at companies in which you have interest. At social events, ask about what someone does for work and for what company. You can always set up a networking meeting later, but start to build a web of connections.
As you start building you list, review it on a regular basis to keep it fresh. You will learn more about companies as you network and some companies will move on or off your list. You then want to prioritize your list to help focus your networking. Consider companies that interest and excite you the most. Do you have contacts at those companies or someone who can introduce you to contacts at those companies? Has the company posted positions in your area of interest in the last few months? When you use this prioritized list to guide your networking, you are building valuable insider connections in the companies where you hope to work.
Students often ask how they can be memorable when they are networking. They want the employers to remember them as individuals with unique skills and experience. I find I often rely on advice given to me early in my career – you need to be interested to be interesting.
It is so easy in a networking to put the focus on yourself. Students are eager to share their experience, their career goals and why they are pursuing an MBA. While all these things are important if this is how you start you are not likely to be remembered.
Focus your preparation prior to the event or meeting on the person you will be meeting. Learn something about their company, their current role and their experience to date. Prepare relevant questions to get the conversation started. Asking about them and their career is a great way to start the conversation. Practice good active listening skills to demonstrate your interest. Ask relevant follow up questions. When it is your turn to talk about yourself, keep what you have just learned in perspective.
Once you have demonstrated your interest in the person, their company and their career, it is much easier to make yourself interesting and remembered. Don’t follow the herd and put yourself first. Be sincerely interested in the other person. It will significantly increase the odds that you will be remembered as an interesting individual.
The informational interview networking meeting is an opportunity for you to learn from your contact about his/her career, current job, company and industry. Think in advance about what you hope to learn and have your questions prepared. To help you prepare, here are some questions to consider:
- What are your current responsibilities?
- What is a typical day like in your job?
- What do you find most challenging about this job and why?
- What interests you the least about this job?
- What creates the most stress in this job?
- What are the obstacles for someone entering this field?
- What are the most desired skills, abilities and personal qualities you seek in candidates?
- What jobs and experiences led you to this position?
- What is the typical career path in this field?
- What are your long term goals?
- How has your job affected your lifestyle?
- What courses in school have been most relevant to your work?
- Do you usually work independently or as part of a team?
- What is the key to success in your field?
- What do you like and dislike about the company?
- Why did you decide to work for this company?
- How are decisions made here?
- What is the organization’s corporate culture?
- How much work is done independently and how much involves group work?
- How would you describe the work environment?
- What are the organization’s long and short-term goals?
- How does this company differ from its competitors?
- How is the department structured?
- What are the greatest challenges facing the company and/or department at this time?
- How could someone with my background enter this field?
- What are the challenges or issues facing this industry?
- What is the current demand for people in this field?
- What types of jobs are available in this field?
- What can you tell me about the employment outlook?
- What is the history of the industry?
- What are your least and most favorite things about working in this industry?
- Is there any reason you would recommend that someone not enter this industry? If so, why?
Targets and Contacts
- Would you be willing to review my target list of companies and offer feedback?
- What other companies should I be considering? Do you have contacts you can recommend in those organizations?
- What professional organizations would be relevant?
- Are there other people you know and with whom you think I should speak? May I say that you referred me?
- What professional journals and associations do you recommend?
- With the information you have about my education and experience, what roles do you think I should be considering?
- To what industries, sectors or roles do you think my skills and abilities would best fit?
- If you were just staring your career again, what would you do differently?
- What advice do you have for a student entering this field?
- Can you suggest opportunities to gain relevant experience in this field?
You will not be able to ask every question in a single meeting but think about what information you need to gain and use the questions to guide you.
Congratulations! You successfully identified a contact at a target company and your contact agreed to a twenty minute meeting. Now what do you do?
It is critical that you do your homework prior to the meeting. Gather information to demonstrate that you respect your contact’s time and be conversant on the company. Use the company website and other business website to learn more about the company, including recent events, competition, financial results. Google the person you will be meeting with to see what you can learn in advance. Review the individual’s LinkedIn profile. This research helps you identify questions to ask. It also demonstrates to the contact that you are well prepared and professional.
The most successful networking meetings are information interviews. You should be prepared to ask your contact questions to learn about the company, the work environment, specific functional areas and jobs, the industry and critical skills for success. You should be doing significantly more listening than talking in an informational interview. Ask for advice from the contact. Be prepared to offer assistance in return to show appreciation for their support.
Talking About Yourself
Rule #1 of networking – never ask for a job! You need to build a relationship and hopefully as a result that person can recommend you in the future for appropriate openings. In the meantime, you are trying to learn as much as you can. You may be asked a few questions such as:
- Tell me about yourself
- Why are you interested in this organization?
- What about this industry appeals to you?
You should be prepared to answer questions about yourself if asked but you don’t start the meeting focused on you. Your goal is to gather information from your contact through an informational interview.
Keep the meeting to the agreed-upon time frame and end with a sincere thank you for their time and insights. Always send a handwritten thank you note. This helps make you more memorable and gets the relationship off to a strong start.
You’ve heard all the data on how most jobs result from networking. You know it is important but you are stumped. You don’t know anyone with a great job at a highly successful company so what are you to do?
You already have network. The people you know are your network – family, friends, current and former coworkers, former classmates, faculty members, etc. All these contacts are sources of valuable networking connections. While they might not have the right connections for the jobs you seek, remember each one of them also has a network of connections.
It is important to have a focus. You can build a huge network but if no one works in companies, industries or roles that interest you, there is less you can learn from them. Identify your target list of companies and focus your networking efforts on finding connections in those companies or their competitors. Once you are connected to the companies on your list, try to find connections in the functional area that interests you.
To build your network, it is easiest to start with people you know and then expand from there. Here are some possible sources of networking connections:
- Family, friends and neighbors
- Professional associations
- Community, religious, political or social organizations
- Faculty, advisors and Career Center staff
- Your current and former classmates
- Former employers and co-workers
- Your parent’s friends and your friend’s parents
It is easier than ever to find connections. Utilize LinkedIn to find people you know and see who they know as a way of expanding your network.
I’m often asked if networking is really necessary in the job search. The answer is “only if you hope to be successful.” Networking is the reality of the current job market. It is rare that sitting behind your computer sending multiple online applications per day yields the desired results. Networking is a critical component of a successful job search.
What if the job seeker is shy or uncomfortable with networking? Here are some tips to ease reluctant networkers into a successful process.
Start with Low Hanging Fruit – Do not start with a cold call to a senior level contact at your dream company. That is much too stressful and could cause a shy person to swear off networking for life. Think about your circle of friends and family. Do any of them work at companies that interest you? Who do they know that they could introduce you to? What about former work colleagues who have moved on to new companies? What about colleagues from school? Starting with people you know enables you to build your confidence and skills as you conduct information interviews. With each interview you are learning about different companies, roles and career paths while you hone your technique and build your skills. Remember to ask each contact who else you should be talking to given your specific goals and interests.
Be realistic – While it is important to put your best foot forward, you are not interviewing for your dream job. Be prepared to gather information and learn while you share your story. You are not asking for a job, you are asking for information. Most people enjoy talking about what they do so be a good listener and ask probing questions to gain the insights you desire.
Attend Events with a Buddy – Walking in a room full of people networking can be a bit intimidating. Consider attending professional association meetings and events or alumni networking events with a buddy. Encourage each other to make new connections and have relevant conversations. Do not spend the evening talking to each other. See how many people you can meet and collect cards for follow-up.
Prepare for Success – Being prepared for your information interviews will enable you to be more confident. Research the company website in advance. Identify questions you hope to ask prior to your meeting. Preparation enables you to have a more meaningful discussion, helps you make a positive, professional impression and helps you reap more value from the meeting.
Build a Plan – Just talking about networking doesn’t make it happen and provides no results. Define a plan and hold yourself accountable. Start with an achievable goal – maybe one informational interview per week. After a few weeks of achieving that, push to goal to two and keep moving. Track your progress and reward yourself for meeting your goals.
Celebrate Success – After a successful informational interview with a networking contact, take a few minutes to reflect on what you learned. Capture some key notes for future reference. Think about what you did well. If there was an awkward moment, think what you could do differently next time. Reflect and learn from the experience. Send a thank you note to your contact to show them you valued their time and insight. Take a walk or do something you enjoy to celebrate your successful meeting and your achievement of your goal.
I am often asked by job seekers if it is really worth their time and effort to use Linked In in their job search. Bottom line: use it only if you are serious about finding your next job! Why is Linked In so important in your job search?
- Building Your Professional Network – The single most important thing you can do in your job search is networking. Linked In makes it easier than ever to identify contacts in your target companies. It is highly unlikely you will land your next position by simply applying online. You need to build a network of supporters at your target companies so that when the perfect opportunity is posted, you have an inside connection who can pass your resume to the hiring manager. It is challenging to stand out in the flood of online applications but most hiring managers will take a look at resumes referred from a trusted colleague.
- The Value of Second and Third Degree Connections and Groups – In the past networking was more challenging because you had to rely primarily on people you knew personally already. With Linked In the true power comes through your second and third degree connections. People you know also know many other people. This greatly expands the pool for identifying contacts in your target organizations. With group you can make connections without waiting for an introduction. Leverage alumni groups for school and former employers as well as affinity groups for your profession. This enables you to expand your network exponentially.
- Informational Interviews – A critical component of your networking strategy should be informational interviews to learn more about the companies on your target list and their career paths and hiring practices. Linked In enables you to identify relevant connections for informational interviews. Then ask each contact for additional introductions.
- Reconnecting with Former Colleagues – You may have lost contact with former colleagues once you left the company. Find them on Linked In to see where they are now and who else they may know to assist you in your search.
- References – It is critical to have references for your search and chances are your references may have moved to other companies since you last worked together. Linked In is a convenient way to find them and to reconnect with them. Be sure to ask permissions to list them as a reference and verity their contact information in advance. When you expect a company will be contacting your references, let them know in advance to expect the call and provide background on the position and why you feel you are good fit.
- Helping Others Find You – While Linked In is extremely valuable in helping you find contacts, it is also becoming a valuable tool for recruiters to find specific skill sets and experience. Be sure you have a compelling and descriptive heading, not just your current title. Have a complete profile so potential employers can quickly see the highlights of your experience and education. Include a summary to focus on your key transferrable skills and your major professional accomplishments. Make it easy for recruiters to find you.