The prospect of creating a professional network can be intimidating and confusing. But the most compelling incentive for getting beyond your angst is the fact that a lot of folks are finding the right job because they developed a healthy and vital professional network. It is not really a new concept. Even before the economic downturn, many people found their jobs through connections.
Current surveys reflect the fact that close to 80 percent of employment vacancies are filled with candidates who had some contact with their employers prior to positions being advertised. While it is advisable to take advantage of every job resource out there, churning out resume after resume for job postings online might not be the best use of your time. The good news is that it is no longer an onerous chore to find contacts using the combo of internet and social media.
Why network in the first place?
- It’s an ideal way to get career information and advice from professionals who are experienced in their field and who may turn out to be a job contact in the future.
- You can become better informed about potential employers, industry trends and the nature of employment opportunities in the industry.
- You will be better prepared for the screening and interview processes.
- Networking can demonstrate your initiative, organizational and communication skills, follow-through, attention to detail and genuine interest in a position - all qualities that separate the best candidate from the others.
What can you learn from networking?
- Specific kinds of work the field offers and what experience and qualifications are required
- Which employers are highly respected in the field
- Which positions your experience qualifies you for
- Current industry trends
- Hiring cycles and where the jobs are most frequently posted
- Names of personal contacts or other individuals who are hiring or who handle hiring for an employer of interest
- Additional contacts who may also be helpful in your process of gathering more information
How do you get started building a network?
Networking is always a bit more comfortable if you already have an established connection. But there are a variety of ways to build and expand your network even if you don’t have a known contact. Take inventory of what career fields are represented by your friends, family, family members' friends, extended family, neighbors, current and past teachers, members of your church or synagogue and especially college alumni.
Don’t despair if you can’t find a good contact among your current connections. LinkedIn, short exchanges on Twitter and Facebook can also lead to valuable contacts. Professional Associations are a great way to meet professionals in your area of interest and attending network events sponsored by local associations. They sponsor a variety of professional networking events.
What’s the best way to capitalize on your network?
Once you have scheduled time to talk to a contact focus on your goals and the kind of information that will be useful to you. It is equally important to do some research on your contact and come armed with questions that show that you have done some homework and have made an effort to learn about your contact.
After meeting with your network contact, follow up with a thank you note. Remain in touch with your contact so you stay on his or her radar screen when a job opportunity turns up.
Move beyond any fears or reservations about approaching a network contact. Keep in mind that most people like to talk about themselves and enjoy sharing their accomplishments and wisdom as an "expert." As long as people feel that they have something to offer, they are most likely to generously offer information and advice.