by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Just about every article on job-hunting you'll read on Quintessential Careers or any other career site says the same thing -- almost to the point of making it a job-seeker mantra: "the most effective method for finding a new job is through networking." Listening to job-hunting gurus and career coaches results in the same call to action -- to contact your network of contacts and enlist their help in uncovering job leads.
The problem for many job-seekers, though, is not so much in understanding the extreme importance of networking, but in the execution of networking. More specifically, job-seekers wonder, where do all these networking contacts come from -- and how can I get people to be part of my network? The key point to remember is that networking is relationship-building. Your network consists of people you've met (either in person or online) -- and you build your network by going out and meeting more people.
Then the question becomes, how do I meet people to add to my network? The thrust of this article is to provide you with 10 proven techniques for building and expanding your career network.
1. Ask members of your current network for referrals. There is probably not an easier way to expand your network than to simply ask your current friends, family, and associates for the contact information of others whom they think would be beneficial for you to know. The "friend-of-a-friend" connection is quite strong and usually very successful. "Who else should I be talking to?" is a good question to use when asking for referrals.
2. Join professional or trade organizations. No better method exists for finding people who share the same professional interests and goals than joining one or more industry organizations. Once you're a member, you'll usually get access to the membership list, which can open up many new prospective network contacts. Most organizations also run regional or national meetings and conferences, which leads to the next technique for building your network of contacts.
3. Attend professional/trade meetings, shows, etc. The great thing about trade shows and industry meetings and conferences is that you'll encounter new people to meet -- and opportunities for both "meet-and-greets" and more in-depth meetings. Seek out peers as well as more experienced members -- and even speakers -- to add to your network.
4. Volunteer. Providing your time and effort to a needy cause is perhaps one of the strongest venues for networking -- because you are working side-by-side with people who share your passion for helping others -- but often overlooked by job-seekers either too busy or too focused on finding industry contacts. Find an organization that needs your help (and there are many) and start volunteering.
5. Attend networking events. This technique is a no-brainer for adding more people to your network of contacts. Various groups hold networking events, including colleges, professional and industry associations, chambers of commerce, and the like. Review community calendars online or in your local newspaper for details.
6. Contact former professors, college alumni association, and/or career services office. One of the strongest ties that help in building new and strong network contacts is sharing the bond of a college or university. Making additional contacts with people affiliated with your college gives you a solid base of shared experiences -- and a strong connection to build upon.
7. Join or ramp up your activities on social and professional networking sites. Once you're a member of Facebook, LinkedIn, or a similar networking site, you'll immediately be provided with strategies for adding friends or connections, such as reconnecting with people who attended the same schools. Electronic connections are not nearly as strong as personal connections, but that should not stop you from at least trying this technique. You can use your virtual connections to grease the wheels toward face-to-face meetings. (Remember to develop and keep a professional profile on these sites.)
8. Join or start job club. In some ways, a job club is the ultimate networking experience because the people you meet there all have shared experiences and the desire for a new job. Run the right way, a job club is a very positive and rewarding experience, a chance to help yourself and others. Learn more in our article, For Networking and Support, Join or Start a Job Club.
9. Conduct informational interviews. There is no better strategy for entry-level job-seekers and career-changers to find and add people to your professional network than to conduct several (or many) informational interviews. As the name implies, it's an interview you initiate with someone in your profession/industry whose brain you can pick about how s/he got their start, moved up the ladder, and so forth. Interested in learning more? Go to our Informational Interviewing Tutorial.
10. Contact former co-workers, vendors, customers/clients. Many times as we move from job to job, employer to employer, we lose touch with former co-workers, customers, and the like. These people all had a relationship with you before and could again -- you simply need to reconnect with them.
Final Thoughts -- and Strategies
Above all else, remember that networking is a reciprocal relationship. You may be seeking help uncovering job leads today, but tomorrow someone in your network may be asking for your help. Never be afraid to ask people in your network for help; don't ask them to get you a job, but do ask them for possible leads, other people they know that you might add to your network, and any advice or other information you seek. When meeting people for the first time, don't make it all about you; ask about the other person and what s/he does for a living.
Finally, always be prepared for networking -- because the opportunity to meet someone can happen literally anywhere… and the person could change your life. To be fully prepared for networking, always carry networking or business cards, have a short elevator speech introduction at the ready, and keep a copy of your resume with you (electronically or in print) just in case a networking encounter leads to deeper possibilities.