October 14, 2008

Tuesday Tips: How to Network

I must have written the word "networking" two dozen times in the last month’s worth of posts here at the JobMonkey blog.

(Some recent examples that spring to mind include the recent post on college internships, last Monday’s post on sports careers for women, and another post last week about how to hire a headhunter.)

Anyway, I realized that while everybody probably knows what this term means, I’m not sure if we all know how to do it. So this Tuesday’s Tips for Career Success is dedicated to the fine art — and absolutely essential career skill — of networking.

What is networking?

I know I just said that everyone knows what networking is, but just in case, here’s a quick and dirty definition: Networking is the process of talking to people in order to get additional contacts or information about possible hiring opportunities.

Why is networking so important?  I’ve got a great resume, shouldn’t that stand for itself?
Yes.  And no.  Studies show that as many as 60 percent of all jobs are filled through a networking contact.  So, while a great resume with impressive educational accomplishments and relevant job experience is definitely essential, it doesn’t necessarily get you in the door.  Networking, on the other hand, can.  (And in six out of ten cases, does.)

How does networking work?

The average American knows approximately 300 people. If you talk to just 50 of these people about your job search, and those fifty people know another fifty people that might be relevant to your job search, you instantly have 2,500 potential contacts!  Even in these tough economic times, that’s a serious leg up.

As you gather this list of 2,500 contacts (or, more realistically, 250), you start to call them and set up coffee dates with them.  You discuss employment trends, salary ranges, job leads, and the names and numbers of people who make hiring decisions at companies you want to work for. Your contacts can also help you hone your interview skills and refine your resume.

How do I keep track of all these contacts?

Start your networking process with a deck of index cards and a file card box.  Write the name of the person, their phone number and email, and how you know them. If you have their business card, you can staple it to the front of your card. When you call the person, make a note of the date and jot down the topics of your conversation.  If they give you other people to talk to, write down their names, titles, phone/fax numbers, emails and work addresses. As soon as you can, make a file card for each new contact with his or her newly attained information.

File your cards alphabetically.  (As your networking becomes more advanced, you may want to create sub-categories, for industry, for region or any other relevant distinction.  For now, however, keep it simple.)

Who should I call first?

If you find yourself staring at a stack of blank index cards, start by brainstorming for contacts among the following:

* Your parents, siblings and other relatives 

* Your college alumni association 

* Your neighbors 

* Your college professors (especially those whose academic expertise may correlate to your intended career area) 

* Your former colleagues 

* Your professional affiliates 

* Your acquaintances from social organizations 

* Your friends

What do I say when I call these people?

 First things first, you are NOT calling asking for a job.  Rather, you are seeking their input about your job search.  Tel them as much as you know about what kind of job you want and where you want to do it.  It’s important to be clear about your goals because it is easier for people to help you when they know what you’re looking for.

Compliment your contact.  Tell him that you thought (or better yet, that the person who suggested you talk to him thought) that he might be an excellent resource of information about a specific industry, region of the country, etc. Ask if she would be willing to talk with you about your job search and to offer strategic suggestions. 

Here are three more tips to maximize your networking process:

1. Give out copies of your resume like it’s your business card

While you aren’t hitting up your networking contact for a job, per se, you should still come prepared to your meeting with a copy of your resume. Have it polished and ready to go and hand it over early in your meeting. That piece of paper will help your networking contact remember you and keep your job search foremost in their mind. 

2. Send out a thank you letter

 Of course, you should say thank you in person.  But a thank you letter (email is fine) is a great way to follow-up and ensure that this contact knows how to reach you if when he hears about a perfect job opportunity.  Like a thank you letter for a job interview, three short paragraphs are more than enough to get your appreciative point across. 

3. Pay for the coffee.

A few dozen drinks at Starbucks does add up, but figure it this way: You can write it off as a job-hunting expense once you do land your dream job!

What are your best networking tips? Have you find a job through a networking connection?  Share your thoughts in our comments section… hey, it’s a great way to start virtually networking!

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