Whether you’re currently looking for a job or contemplating a change to boost your career, networking is a powerful way to create the connections to get you there. No man (or woman) is an island, and certainly not in business.
But, what is networking? The answer is not as simple as you think. Networking is a term with several nuanced meanings – each with its own relevance to the job search process. Without an appreciation for all aspects of networking, job seekers may very well be missing something in their approach.
Let’s start with target-specific networking. This aspect of networking can be described as the act of asking a connection to introduce you to a relevant contact of theirs at an organization that you are specifically targeting. In this context, you are leveraging your existing network to be connected with the hiring manager or another influencer at the target organization.
What can do you if you don’t have a well-placed connection that can help open the door for you to a specific opportunity? The answer is you can reach out directly to the hiring manager with a thoughtful message. Many refer to this as networking, but at GetFive, we call it by the more precise name of direct contact.
Another very important facet of networking is network outreach. As opposed to target-specific networking, the goal of this networking activity is to find out about opportunities that you may not currently be aware of and to uncover more people that might be able to help you.
Building your network and maintaining your network are other important concepts. You can grow your network through all the activities you are involved in both professionally and personally. Just as importantly, you want to maintain your network year in and year out, not just when you need something.
Finally, perhaps the most common meaning of the term networking – and the one most likely to obfuscate the others – relates to attendance at networking activities, like industry conferences, continuing ed, and other kinds of local meet-ups.
Let’s dive into each of these important concepts in a bit more detail and look at how you can use these powerful tools to their fullest in your job search.
Using Your Network To Connect To A Specific Opportunity
Networking and direct contact are the two primary ways of trying to get into a company as it relates to a specific job opportunity. But there is some confusion about the terms “networking” and “direct contact,” not the least of which is that “network” is used as both a noun and a verb. Your network consists of the people you know, your LinkedIn contacts, people from past jobs, those you meet at business events, and so on.
Networking is reaching out through your existing contacts to the people doing the hiring. For instance, your college friend is an account executive at the big ad agency Publicis, and he is willing to introduce you to the EVP, Advanced Media, who is hiring for a role you are interested in. We call this target-specific networking because you are working backward from a known job opportunity to figure out the best person in your network to help open that door.
What To Do If You Can’t Use Your Network – aka Direct Contact
Direct contact is also reaching out, but it’s more like a cold call in sales. It’s contacting the people doing the hiring, directly, when you don’t have someone, like your college friend in this case, to network through. Just because you don’t have someone to open a door for you doesn’t mean you are relegated to the generic online application process or, in the case of positions without public job postings, just missing the opportunity altogether.
Direct contact is the act of reaching out directly to the hiring manager or influencer with a well-constructed email or LinkedIn message. A follow-up phone call may also be appropriate.
When you contact a hiring manager or influencer directly, there are certain things that are critical. Your message needs to be well-researched, well-written, and have a clear and reasonable ask. In some cases, the ask is coffee. In others, it is a 15-minute phone call.
Research and identify key contacts within companies. Before applying the direct contact approach, the job seeker should have first researched the organization in his or her target area, identified the influencers within the organization that are relevant to the targeted opportunity, and ruled out the possibility of going through a mutual connection.
We say hiring manager or influencers for a reason. There isn’t just one right way to approach this and you may not always be able to ascertain exactly who the hiring manager is. Maybe there is a manager of a particular group of interest that might be your key to catching someone’s eye. Maybe there is someone you’d deem a “brand ambassador” who you feel could really make a difference in your job search efforts.
It’s important to note, the direct contact exercise should be one of extreme vetting. It’s not about reaching out to as many people as possible in hopes of grabbing someone’s attention. It’s about finding the one or two people who you feel are the most influential and reaching out to them strategically to get your foot in the door.
Success – What Now? If your direct contact efforts do result in an informational interview, “winging it” is never a good strategy. Instead, have a general sense of how the interview is going to go before your meeting. Here’s a simple format you can follow for every interview.
- Exchange pleasantries
- Explain why you reached out
- Establish your credibility
- Ask your questions
- Ask for referrals
- Follow up. Send a note of thanks. You’ve taken someone’s time and asked for their help, or to lend their expertise. You have, in a sense, asked for a favor. It’s vital to be grateful for the help and let the person know you truly appreciate his or her efforts on your behalf.
Another important facet of networking that we focus on is network outreach. Unlike the facet of networking that relates to a specific opportunity, this goal of this networking activity is find out about opportunities that you may not currently be aware of and to uncover more people that might be able to help you.
Network outreach is about contacting people within your network that may be in a position to be helpful in your job search and scheduling coffees, meals or phone conversations.
For example, you have a friend that works in an industry you are targeting. A conversation with this person will at a minimum provide helpful context and background about what’s happening in that space. It can also uncover leads, intros and opportunities that you were not aware from your primary research efforts.
A way to cast your net even wider is through events designed for business professionals where you can make connections. For most industries, there are any number of local events and national events. Some meetings are hosted by vendors to the industry. Other networking groups are run by volunteers. Major conferences are typically run by event marketing companies. Some are free. Some are paid. If you are a CFO, for example, you might want to attend local CFO support groups – your outplacement counselor can help you find them – or you may want to invest in attending a prominent conference where CFOs go to network and learn from each other. Some won’t be accessible to those in transition. But, many are.
For extroverted professionals, networking events offer a chance to shine. Thriving on the energy of others, they move seamlessly from group to group, mingling with ease. Their charisma and confidence are crystal clear.
And then there’s the rest of us.
Networking doesn’t come easily for the majority of people. In fact, many feel uncomfortable when trying to strike up conversations with complete strangers. Fortunately, with a few tips and tricks, you can change that awkwardness into amazing opportunities to make connections and grow your personal brand.
There are three phases to taming your networking jitters and getting the most out of those contacts and connections: before, during and after the event.
Before the networking event
As with anything in business, the more you prepare, the smoother it will go. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Do your research. If you know who might be there — other members of the chamber, say — jump on LinkedIn and look them up. See if you have any shared connections and look for other commonalities in their profiles. That way, they won’t feel like complete strangers.
Come armed with questions (and follow-ups). Ah, the dreaded conversation starter. It’s a big problem for people at networking events. You’re waiting for a drink at the bar, standing next to someone. What do you say? Offering a handshake and introducing yourself is a great go-to icebreaker. The other person will respond in kind. What now?
The key here is to have a follow-up question ready. A safe bet is to say something about the event. “Have you been a chamber member long?” “Have you tried the hors d’oeuvres?” “What did you think of the speaker?” Another way to go is to look at the person’s name tag and ask about his or her profession. “Oh! I see you’re in HR. How did you get into that?”
The main thing is to have a couple of comments in your back pocket. Then, you won’t be casting about for something to say.
Reach out to the organizer before the event and offer to volunteer. If it’s hard for you to integrate into a group to mingle, consider volunteering at the event. The sweet spot here? The registration table. There, you’ll be able to meet a large number of attendees and make a good first impression. While your conversations will be short, you’ll be able to connect with many people in minimal time. Then, when everyone is registered and the event begins, you can mingle with people you’ve already spoken to.
Organize an event. In the same vein as volunteering, when you organize an event you’re able to connect with many people in the industry. The difference is you’ll be able to connect with some people on a deeper level as you seek speakers and volunteers. Work with your company to host an after-hours cocktail hour. This does double duty: You’ll be showing higher-ups in your company your organizational skills and can-do spirit, and making a name for yourself in the business community as well.
Choose your events wisely. Don’t feel like you have to attend every networking event that comes down the pike. Instead, evaluate your objectives. Think about what you want to achieve and choose the events that will give you the most bang for your buck.
At the event
Here are some ideas for honing your game-day performance. After all, simply attending a networking event isn’t the point. Killing it at the event is the point.
Arrive early. If you loathe networking events, you probably tend to arrive fashionably late so can you blend into the crowd. For better success, try the opposite. Arrive early and enjoy thinned crowds that are simpler to navigate. It is easier to engage with fewer attendees when the space is less hectic. You’ll make some connections and feel more comfortable before larger groups arrive.
Plant “hooks” in your responses. To keep the conversation going with a new person, don’t give one-word answers to questions. Instead, say something that will hook the other person. “Where are you from?” “Minneapolis. Yep, it’s as cold and snowy as people say it is. We don’t mess around with winter.”
Don’t make it all about you. To be effective, networking needs to be a two-way street. Your goal is for your new contacts to learn about you, and for you to learn about them.
Give yourself a time limit … Don’t go into the event thinking you have to stay for the entire time. Give yourself 30 minutes or an hour. That way, it won’t seem so overwhelming when you walk in.
… and a goal. You don’t need to come away from the event with a stack of business cards and email addresses after having worked the room like a seasoned politician. Give yourself the goal of talking to three new people, and once that’s accomplished, call it a success.
Don’t be a boor. This should go without saying, but — don’t be a jerk at networking events. Don’t overindulge in food or drink, overshare personal or professional information, or make someone you meet feel less than important to you. First impressions count, and bad impressions are often the only ones people remember.
Do be a friendly professional. People want to be around other people who are pleasant. That means you need to be professional yet friendly during networking events, and courteous during email or phone interactions.
After the event
Focus on the follow-up. If you meet a ton of great professionals at an event, great! But don’t stop there. It’s essential to follow up with people to solidify that relationship, otherwise you’ll be quickly forgotten. A good strategy is to note interesting information about people throughout an event. Then you can go beyond the “was nice to meet you” email and add a link to a story on that local band you discussed or include a note about how you enjoy rock climbing, too.
Use social media. LinkedIn is the No. 1 social media site for professionals. After a networking event, make sure you request connections with the people you met. Then, use the platform as a springboard to launch a deeper relationship. For example, ask local people to meet for coffee to discuss industry trends. For non-local contacts, inquire about a phone conversation so you can learn more about how they broke into the industry or their vision for the future.
Nurture those new connections. This could be as simple as emailing a new connection with a link to an article you think may be of interest to them. But pay close attention to any opportunities to aid your new connections in some way. People remember those who have helped them.
Use the power of “weak ties.” Some of the connections you’ll make with people are stronger than others. That’s OK. Many job seekers spend much of their energy trying to create strong relationships with people, assuming these close connections will help them in their search. Surprisingly, it’s the people we encounter tangentially — those who are what career experts refer to as “weak ties” — who often turn out to be the most valuable in a job search. Why is this? The people we know well tend to move in the same circles as us. But a weaker connection can act as a bridge to a new area, an area that may lead you to a new job.
One way to do this is to follow up with new contacts you make through connecting with them on LinkedIn. Once you’re connected, you can follow up with them with a quick note relating to what you talked about when you met. Try to mention some of your skills and experience in doing this. You don’t want to be overbearing, and remember to keep it positive! You never know where these weak connections can lead, and how these conversations can evolve.
Maintaining Your Network
Lifelong maintenance of your network is important. You want to stay in touch and send the occasional message to people that you are not regularly in touch with, whether they are weak ties or colleagues from a former firm, etc.
In the end, all of these efforts are designed to culminate in you finding a new job, whether you’re currently out of work or looking to make a change to boost your career. So, when you’re settled in your new job, keep in touch with all those people who helped you along the way. Networking is about more than finding a job: It’s about building lifelong relationships.
At GetFive, there are great networking opportunities for our members every week whether it is participating in small-group strategy sessions or lead sharing through our private alumni community. People looking for a job in one industry or interviewing with one company may find that a fellow GetFive member worked in that industry or has contacts at the company they are interested in. These conversations can lead to valuable contacts and ultimately, to an interview.
That’s the power of networking, and the power of the small group.
GetFive is full of networking tips and advice on all job search topics. Contact us today!