It is not all that unusual for job seekers to find that next great opportunity by word of mouth from someone they know. In fact, finding opportunities through professional relationships or acquaintances happens often enough that it is necessary to learn the fine art of networking.
Networking is what you do to build professional relationships in order to help grow your career.
You also expect these contacts to introduce you to others who you don’t know, but might also be helpful in your career. In return, you do the same for those with whom you network.
It’s not always easy to become comfortable with networking, but here are some tips to help you along the way.
Finding the Right Event
A lot of networking takes place at business events. These are often events hosted by colleges, professional organizations or business organizations that are designed to showcase product solutions or educational opportunities. It’s important to find the right event for you. Once you find a list of events, you need to research to understand the types of people who will be attending and you need to evaluate if the event is going to be beneficial to you. This is also the time to be a little curious and creative.
Another great way to network is by volunteering. Sign up for local events, such as fundraisers or school events, where you can help others while meeting new people.
How to Market Yourself
When you are face-to-face with someone else, it’s important to know how to relate to the other person and build a professional relationship.
- Be helpful. Although you have goals that you wish to accomplish, others are there to meet their goals as well. One of the best ways to become number one on someone else’s list is to show that you can help solve their issues or provide knowledge they don’t have.
- Show genuine interest in other people and be gracious towards them.
- Project confidence. Keep your chin up and shoulders straight. Dress professionally. Make eye contact.
- Make sure to introduce others as you can and include them into your conversation.
- Don’t drink. If possible, don’t smoke or go without smoking while you’re at the event.
- Be ready to exchange your contact information. Have a good handful of business cards just in case someone asks you for one.
- If you’re at a function and you’re new to networking, decide ahead of time how many people you want to meet. Introduce yourself and start off with an easy question, such as “Hi, what brings you here?”
- Ask open ended questions and try to avoid questions that require only a yes/no answer. Some questions can include “Where are you from?” or “Tell me a little bit about your experience.”
- Try to remember something about every person you meet. You can use a memorization technique, such as a mnemonic or even jot down a few notes about each person.
- Share what your goal is with others, but only after you listened to them. On your part, keep it simple by saying, “I’m in the job market right now and hoping to get some advice from others here.”
- Follow-up and contact people. Send a quick email, ask for a connection on social media, or even make a quick phone call.
- If a contact helps you out, make sure to thank them. A personal phone call is great for an introduction. But if that introduction leads to a job offer, a small gift of thanks is appropriate.
- If you’re going to use a contact’s name, always ask for permission first. You can take this opportunity to give them heads up so they are not taken off guard.
- Be nice to all the people that you meet and try not to look over their shoulder. However, the quality of the contact must also be considered. If you are seeking a job and have a chance to speak either to a hiring manager or an IT analyst who doesn’t do any hiring, you want to make a point to speak to the manager.
Build your online professional profile. Set up a LinkedIn profile and join professional groups in your trade. It’s important to put in enough descriptive information that if people are searching by keywords you will show up. For example, if you are in sales and specialize in heavy equipment sales, you will want to describe the types of equipment you’ve worked with in the past.
Become the online expert by joining forums and helping others. There are many online forums, so find the ones that have the experts that you respect. As you answer questions, you will then become known as an expert by people seeking advice.
Reach out to others. If you really want to pursue an IT job with a specific company, search for IT people who work at that company and send a quick note introducing yourself. You can ask for 30 minutes of their time to do some information sharing and by all means, let them know you are interested in working for that company.
Networking is never a one and done deal. Networking is something you do every single day. Reach out to new people and make it a point to be professionally inviting in all you do. The goal of networking is to build a nice big web of professional relationships.
Practice makes perfect, but you must set your expectations realistically. The payoff from a great networking relationship may take time. The fact is that you probably won’t walk out of an event with a brand new job. However, as you start to build your network and get involved with others on a professional level, you will start to hear informal conversations that can lead to prospects not yet on the open market.