Starting a job search? The time to have begun networking was months or even years ago. Networking is a long-range strategy. It doesn’t necessarily yield immediately benefits; in fact, it probably won’t. I can’t emphasis enough how vital networking is for your career development, beginning with your first entry-level job until the day you retire (and often, even after).
Recent reports suggest that social media jobs platforms such as LinkedIn could add $2.7 trillion to the global economy, benefiting up to 540 million members by 2025 and increasing global employment by 72 million full-time jobs.
Networking is not contacting people you barely know (or don’t know at all) in order to ask them to do you a favor. Networking is on-going – a work in progress. You’re building relationships based on common interests and mutual connections. You don’t network with an agenda. You network to meet people to whom you can be of help and who may one day be in a position to help you. You network because you genuinely like people and are interested in their work. Networking requires you to respect boundaries and understand that there are no obligations for having established a connection. Once you take the ego and personal agenda out of networking, it becomes a personally fulfilling strategy that just happens to have a positive impact on your career.
Traditional networking – attending events, meeting people for coffee, and so on is great, but limits you to one location. Social media allows you to engage in digital networking.
LinkedIn is arguably the best platform for networking because it provides so many opportunities to connect with people on a professional level.
What to do + how to do it: Your first step is to grow your network. Giving LinkedIn access to your email provider will result in suggestions for people to connect with. Start with those individuals. Next, join 3 – 5 professional organizations with relevance to your field – or the field you hope to enter. Follow all the companies that you’ve targeted as potential employers. Don’t forget your college or university’s alumni LinkedIn group, as well. Comment in group discussions, noting who else is active within a group; connect with these people. Send connection requests to people at your target companies. At this stage, your goal is to take names. Add as many of these people to your network as possible, BUT don’t send your request with LinkedIn’s default message. Write a brief message that explains what you have in common with this person. A colleague? Did you attend the same school? Have you read this person’s post? Tell him/her why you enjoyed reading it; that’s a connection request guaranteed to be accepted!
At least once a week, check to see who’s been viewing your profile. If you know the person, reach out with a quick email to say, “hey, what’s going on.” Is the person unknown to you? Send a connect request. There’s a reason he or she was looking at your profile – so find out why and add that person to your network.
As you begin to apply to jobs, check your network for people who work at the companies you’ve applied to. Obviously, you already know if a first-degree contact works there, but those second and even third degree contacts can be gold as well. Write a short, respectful email, either via LinkedIn or if the person provides a direct email address in the profile, use that. Mention your mutual connection in the subject line; that improves the odds that your email will get read. Tell the person that you have just applied for the position at his/her company (reference the job title or number as well as the department) and ask if they have any suggestions for how to reach the hiring manager directly. Your request may be ignored, but in my experience, it usually results in the person offering to forward your resume directly to the hiring manager. People actually love to help, so long as they don’t feel used, so be very respectful of their time and always express your thanks for any help they provide.
Twitter: Twitter has a rep as being primarily about what’s trending socially. But it is actually a very good vehicle for identifying potential networking contacts because everyone (and every company) is on Twitter.
What to do + how to do it: Identify people at your target company or industry and follow them; then start favoriting and retweeting their posts. Keep doing this and they will notice. You can then start commenting on their posts, and the next thing you know they’re responding and you’ve developed a new networking relationship. You can direct message anyone who’s followed you back; if not, just tweet asking if you could connect with them via email. Going to their website usually will give you a way to connect directly as well.
Regular old email: Everyone has an email address. You can usually find a person’s direct email on a company website, LinkedIn profile or through a mutual connection. While most of us are inundated by emails, you can get yours read by writing a compelling subject line.
What to do + how to do it: Send a well-planned email that contains a specific reason for you each to connect. Don’t be vague and never write, “hope to meet over coffee soon; I’d like to pick your brain about…” Would that get you to agree to meet? I didn’t think so! Instead, briefly describe the potential benefit of meeting and explain how much of that person’s time you expect to take. Offer to meet over coffee – on you, of course. Respond to any answer graciously.