Networking 101


Here’s a word we all use a lot in the business world: Networking.

Admittedly, it’s a trendy verb that’s overused. The relevant definition of “network” is “a group of interconnected or cooperating individuals.” The best way to find a job in this economy, or any other, is by networking.

My goal is to give you solid, substantive tips on how to find, develop and manage a network of people that will lead you to the job of your dreams.

According to various studies, almost 60% of all jobs are filled as a result of some level of networking. 50% of all jobs that are filled aren’t even advertised. They are uncovered through word-of-mouth; someone telling someone else about an opportunity or about an individual they think would be perfect for a job. You need to be the person they are thinking of when they hear about an opening that is not right for them. To make that happen you have to meet lots of people and tell them the type of job you are looking for. That is networking. It’s a personal skill that needs to be learned and practiced until it becomes as natural as taking a breath. It involves reaching out to family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and most commonly, complete strangers to hear and learn about these unadvertised opportunities.

Networks have myriad uses:

  • To find job leads,
  • To discuss new directions,
  • To generate career options,
  • To problem-solve,
  • To assess transferable skills,
  • To sharpen a résumé for an interview,
  • To hook up with role models or mentors;
  • To simply receive emotional support.

But wait, you might say: “How can I network? I don’t know anybody.”

That’s nonsense. Unless you’ve spent the last 20 years on a desert island or holed up in a mountain cave, you know people. They may not be associated with your dream company, but that doesn’t matter. As you will soon learn, often someone you know knows someone else who knows someone else. Eventually, when done right, you will get to the person you need to get to.

Your network is only as good as the people you put in it or, more important, the people who can be brought into it. It’s not just quantity, but quality. Knowing 1,000 people won’t help if most of those 1,000 can’t help you. But what you will soon learn is how to finesse the people you do know to use their networks to do reconnaissance work for you. And here’s how you begin:

Finding, Developing and Managing Networks

As soon as you find out, either by your choice or someone else’s, that you will be in the job search mode (maybe you’ve heard rumors of layoffs or you’re just ready to make a move), alert every appropriate member of your networking group.

If you’re looking for a job, now is no time to be shy. Don’t hesitate to contact people you haven’t seen for some time. Remember, they haven’t been in contact with you either. Your effort to reach out may be much appreciated and welcomed. Think Facebook and LinkedIn. These are excellent methods to reconnect with lost acquaintances and both sites are easy to use.

Your job search network should be as expansive as possible. The more people you enlist, the better your chances for success.

In the employment/human resources industry, a compilation of one’s networking contacts is sometimes known as the “Christmas card” list. Typically, it’s 50 or more individuals whom you can count on for support and guidance.

You may already have such a list. If you do not, here are some suggested sources for creating one:

  • Neighbors, current and former
  • Employers, current and former
  • Co-workers, current and former
  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Past teachers and professors
  • Members and clergy from your church or religious institution
  • College alumni (think about contacting your alma mater’s career center too)
  • Social acquaintances, such as exercise partners or sports teammates
  • Salespeople you’ve done business with
  • People who have provided services, such as hair stylists or mechanics
  • Fellow volunteers from charity work
  • Classmates from any grade level
  • Politicians, including local city council and school board members
  • Doctors, dentists, lawyers and accountants
  • Business club members (e.g., Rotary, Lion’s Club)

I have no idea whose research resulted in this number, but the lore of career counseling says that unless you have an active “Christmas card” list of at least 89 people then you should not consider a direct sales position like insurance, financial planning or consulting. The point they want to make is that you are not a natural communicator if you don’t actively keep in touch with that many people. Regardless of the validity of this number, it is an interesting concept. After you’ve compiled potential members for your network, prioritize it while keeping in mind the attributes of a good contact:

  • The person likes you or has reasons to help you. They have a personal or professional investment in your success and well-being.
  • The person knows a wide range of people who are “plugged in.” These are connections that can be useful to you.
  • The person is savvy about the existing job market and future employment trends. Their knowledge has real currency and value.
  • The person is successful in his or her own career. This is evidence they know what they’re talking about.

Be very clear about what you are seeking from networking contacts. Be professional and appropriate. Don’t ask (or worse, insist) that people do things they may not be comfortable doing, or cannot do without extraordinary effort, or that may damage their reputations. An example might be asking them to make an introduction to the HR staff at the company where they work. They just might not feel like they know you well enough. If you sense someone is balking at any request you make, graciously pull back and try another approach.

You want your network of contacts to be a living, growing, enduring entity. You’ll need and want to be able to go back to your contacts from time to time (remember: no job is permanent; careers change, we are all temps), so long- term nurturing of these relationships is essential. Stay in touch. Keep people apprised of your job search progress and success. Send thank you notes for job leads or services rendered.

Sarah met with me for an informational interview; I was able to give her some hot leads, and good tips about how to avoid the black hole. After a nice thank you note, I never heard from her again. I wonder if she is still out there searching for a job. She is out-of-sight and there- fore out-of-mind. I would have been a great person to put on that Christmas card list.

Robert, on the other hand, stayed in touch with regular updates (every three weeks or so). I felt like I was vested in his success because he cared enough to stay in touch with me. When I thought he was straying off target, I could shoot him a quick email. When he was sounding discouraged, I could share some encouragement. Most important when he got the job of his dreams, I could congratulate him and share in his joy. Next time Robert needs my advice or input, I will be happy to hear from him. Sarah, on the other hand, not so much.

Managing a network can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t stay organized. Create a notebook or database to keep track of all of your contact names and networking activities. Document whom you spoke with, the topics discussed and the projected outcomes. Check off who (everyone) you’ve sent thank you notes to and what you discussed. Diligently file all correspondence, including notes and emails, so that you can quickly retrieve them as needed.

Any useful tips you have for developing your network?