Start networking today to take your job search to the next level.
If you’re looking for a job, you’re bound to find many articles encouraging you to network, and with good reason. It’s widely acknowledged that networking can help you uncover job leads that may not be published anywhere else and will give you a leg up on the competition. In fact, studies have found you are ten times more likely to land an interview when your job application is accompanied by an employee referral.
But before you can reap these benefits, you first need to learn the art of networking. Below are five tips to help you build your professional network.
Get up from behind the computer
Technology can be a powerful tool for a job seeker – just look at how TheLadders’ new iPhone app can save you time in the search – but it can’t take the place of networking. Sending a LinkedIn connection request to a random person is NOT networking – it’s a shot in the dark. Use your social media channels to prepare for networking by building your online brand, uncovering job listings, and researching target employers and potential networking events and organizations.
Do your homework
Once you’ve found an event to attend, do a little reconnaissance. Whenever possible, review the agenda or list of RSVPs and research the speakers (if applicable) so you know what to expect. Make sure you watch the news that day - it’s easier to make small talk with strangers when you know what’s going on in the world. Give yourself a goal, such as meeting at least five new people, learning one new tip that you can put into practice immediately or asking a presenter for his opinion on a topic that interests you.
Bring business cards
If you’re going to network, you need to be able to easily and professionally hand out your contact information to those you meet. You can get a nice set of cards from companies like VistaPrint and GoPrint for around twenty-five bucks. Keep in mind that dolling out a bunch of business cards at an event (or collecting them from strangers) does not constitute networking. Actually have a conversation with the person and get to know a little bit about them before you do a business card exchange. I even recommend writing a couple notes on the back of the card (when you’re alone) so you can remember how you met the person and what you learned about them. It will make following up much easier.
Fake it till you make it
Enter the event with energy and confidence, even if you have to fake it. If you’re nervous talking to strangers, work the edges of the room. Find another person standing on the perimeter and introduce yourself. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you’re new to networking and feeling nervous. Chances are the other person is just as nervous as you. Team up and meet new people together.
What you do after a networking event is just as important – if not more important – than what happens at the actual event. Think of a networking event like a speed dating exercise. You’re quickly meeting a bunch of new people and getting to know a little bit about each of them. What you do after that first meeting will determine if the person becomes just another contact in your online network or a valuable connection. Continue building rapport with the person so that, over time, a genuine relationship is created.
Take advantage of every networking opportunity that comes your way, whether it’s an alumni event, a monthly meeting with a relevant professional organization or a neighborhood picnic. The more you practice networking, the easier and more natural it will feel. Remember, developing a strong and valuable network takes work and time.
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Amanda Augustine is the Job Search Expert for TheLadders. She provides job search and career guidance for professionals looking to make their next career move. Have a question for Amanda? Submit your question here for a chance to have it answered in her weekly column, and be sure to follow her at @JobSearchAmanda on Twitter and “Like” her on Facebook for up-to-the-minute job-search advice.