Networking is the single most effective way to land a job, yet many job seekers struggle to navigate how, where and with whom to make professional connections.
A key characteristic of a healthy network is that it is built over time. Ideally, when you’re ready to seek out your next opportunity, it will seem natural to contact former colleagues, employers, classmates and friends because you’ve preserved those relationships.
Still, if you’re ready to start your search and don’t have that built-in network, it’s never too late to start developing one. No matter the shape of your existing network, here are some tips for making new contacts that count.
Networking is an everyday opportunity
Networking happens everywhere. And with the vast majority of jobs being filled by or created for candidates who are referred or have direct contact with an employer, it only makes sense that expanding your network also expands your opportunity. That’s why it’s important that each of your acquaintances, old and new, hear about your skills and experience. Many job seekers are tempted to attend an event, collect business cards and consider their networking complete. While events like chamber of commerce luncheons or professional development seminars are excellent avenues for networking, your normal routine presents plenty of opportunities for professional networking, too. People you know through church, your child’s school and your neighborhood, for example, all should know what you can do and what sort of opportunities you’re seeking.
Give as much as you take
Networking is about building relationships. It’s not about finding people who can help you immediately. I once worked with a job seeker who happened to strike up a conversation with a delivery driver at a convenience store. He was interested in the transportation field and offered to ride along with and help the driver so that he could learn more about the job. He shadowed the driver for two days and ended up landing the exact job he wanted. Opportunities like that might not always develop, but the lesson is to look for ways to make yourself valuable to a new contact. When you start a conversation, listen for ways you can offer to help them. You’ll build trust, and they will be more likely to return the favor.
Be ready to explain yourself
Think about how you would clearly and concisely explain who you are and what you can do. Attention spans are short, so this 30-second summary, often referred to as an elevator speech, should quickly let people know what you offer and why you are unique. You should be ready to speak confidently about what type of careers interest you, but keep in mind that you should refrain from asking a new contact for a job. Instead, ask for advice or information relating to your job search.
Fortify the relationships
Strong networks require follow up. If a new acquaintance provided advice or helpful industry information, for example, follow up with a thank you and a brief update on how you were able to use their tip. For the long term, an occasional email, social media exchange or an invitation to coffee or lunch goes a long way in keeping the ice broken. Keep in mind that even when your focus is developing new relationships, it’s equally important to pay attention to your older contacts. Remember, the strongest networks are built over time.
If you’re interested in improving your networking skills, the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail can help. We regularly offer workshop about effective networking strategies at our Elizabethtown location. The next workshop is from 10-11 a.m. April 17.
Plus, whether you’re planning to attend an upcoming networking event or just want to polish your technique, our career counselors are available for one-on-one coaching.
Jerisia Lamons is client service manager at Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail, which is overseen by the Lincoln Trail Workforce Investment Board. She can be reached at (270) 766-5115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.