You are working from home wondering if, or when, your career is going to get impacted by this pandemic. Or you are job hunting and crossing your fingers something changes soon. Should you be updating your resume? Most definitely, yes. Guess what, you also need to make sure you are nurturing and growing your professional network.
We are not telling you something you don’t already know. You know that networking is important and you have heard things like: You need to network! Make sure you leverage your network! Build your network! You understand that networking is good for you and yet – you still dread it. We get it! Networking isn’t at the top of everyone’s to-do list. It can be an awkward, time-sucking activity. You’ve already been doing your best to stay positive and in action during the pandemic while managing the kids being home…and having to wear a mask every time you leave the house…and being predominantly stuck inside. The last thing you’d want to do right now is make attempts to get complete strangers to engage in small talk by phone or Zoom.
The reality is that there is incredible power in growing and maintaining a strong professional network. In fact, for most successful professionals it was the key to each step of their career.
Just as companies have had to adapt to a mostly remote workforce and people adjusted with new social behaviors, it is more important than ever before to stay in touch and forge new relationships. Believe it or not, virtual networking can sometimes foster stronger ties more quickly than face-to-face interactions – think virtual happy hours, for example. The bottom line is that networking – when it is done right – will not only assist you in landing a job faster, but it will also give you that competitive edge throughout each stage of your career.
We sat down with The Job Sauce’s Career Experts and Executive Team to shift your perspective and your approach to effective networking. Getting down to the basics will support you in effectively strategizing and thinking outside the box to grow your professional network.
What is Networking?
Usually, when people think of networking, it usually involves wanting something from someone else: information, a favor, etc. The world of professional networking is really all about establishing and nurturing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. The first principle of networking – whether virtually or in person – is to understand that networking is not synonymous with selling something. The second is to ask yourself what you bring to the relationship. So ask yourself: Why would this person want to connect with me?
Once you have created an empowering relationship to networking and have strategically designed your approach, you’ll be ready to begin. The beautiful thing here is that networking is simple and always available to you – whether you’re waiting to order your morning latte, participating in your weekly yoga class, or attending a conference. This doesn’t mean you have to join every professional association, attend every networking event, or talk to a million people. If you look around during a normal day – yes we know that is a relative statement – you’ll see that networking opportunities are all around you.
Why Networking is So Critical to Your Success
We have interviewed experts both in and outside of The Job Sauce – they all agree that the most connected individuals are usually the most successful. Cultivating relationships is actually much easier than it seems when you take on being generally interested in people. For the most part, being interested in something other than yourself is a pretty unique thing. Just look for yourself. How often do you feel like others are authentically paying attention to you, let alone really listening?
Investing in your relationships with the smallest gestures will pay out in dividends. Further, the more you network the more you develop your skill sets, stay on top of industry trends, gain access to resources, and most importantly – meet the right people.
How Do I Start
For many people, just getting starting is the hardest part. Therefore we first ask you to set aside whatever you know or think about networking – and take a breath! We recommend that you then go through the contacts in your phone and make a list of who you are already connected to who would be a viable resource. By viable resource, what we mean is this person either works for a company you’d like to work for, they are in the industry you are targeting, they are doing what you want to do, or they simply occur to you as someone who has been effective in their career.
This is your “hot list.” Why? Because these are people you know well enough to already have their contact information.
The next list we invite you to make is an “indirect connections” list. These are people who you already have first connections with on LinkedIn or people who are connected to the people you’ve got 1st connections with. As you make this list, make a note of:
Who the person is?
Where do they currently work?
What do they do?
What kind of connection are they?
Who are our mutual connections with (especially if not a 1st connection)?
The next thing to look at is how to start the conversation. We do not recommend launching into finding out how they could hook you up with a job or connect you with someone who could give you a job. Remember you are planting seeds here. So instead, play this to your advantage by asking for advice. People love being admired and recognized as experts in their industry.
You’ll be more likely to schedule a time to speak more quickly with someone with whom you already have contact information for. Make sure you keep in mind that even they might take longer getting back to you. You really don’t know what people have been dealing with these last six months and it is important to stay sensitive to that. This is why it is important once you do speak with them to make sure that you find out how things have been going for them these last few months: how is their family? how are they doing while managing this new normal? When you are building new connections in your network you want to treat them like a person, be curious about them, and ask questions. Make sure that you are genuine and authentic.
This opens up a dialogue where they’ll then ask you what is happening on your end. You don’t want to launch into what YOU need right away. Instead, sharing with them about how life is going, how your family is doing, and then mention what is happening (or not happening) on the job front. As the conversation opens up, you can weave in where you are in your career and what your goals are.
Job Search Networking
It goes without saying that networking is incredibly important during a job search. The right employee referral can increase your chances tenfold of landing the job. And when looking to make a career change, your professional network can support you by helping you find connections in the industry you are trying to break into or helping you find leads for jobs at specific companies.
Take the time to build meaningful relationships with those in your professional circle, so when the time comes to search for work, you can tap into those valuable connections for referrals, insights into job leads, and other valuable information.
Your Networking Style
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to networking. Different people are successful using different networking tactics. The key is to try out a number of different networking strategies to discover what best suits you. For instance, if you’re an introvert, you may prefer to network one-on-one over coffee or to attend more intimate events with fewer attendees. Once you’ve discovered your ideal networking style, consider where you can go to meet the right people who can help you achieve your current career-development goals.
Make Sure to Follow-Up
Many professionals overlook one of the most critical steps in the networking process: the follow-up. The time you invested in speaking with someone new won’t benefit your career development if you fail to follow up afterward. You don’t need to send a long postcard immediately after meeting someone, however, you should send a personalized message sooner rather than later. Save the thoughtful message when you have something valuable to share or a specific reason to reach out.
Don’t Forget to Pay It Forward
Look for opportunities to provide value to those in your network before you ask for help. The more you invest in your relationships, the more you’ll learn about your new connections, and the easier it will be to offer assistance — and get it in return! The value you provide isn’t limited to the workplace; this could be anything from a hotel recommendation to an introduction to someone in your personal network.
It’s never too early — or too late — to invest in your network. The best way to improve your networking skills is to put yourself out there and give it a try. The worst mistake you can make is not doing anything at all.