By Barbara Mitchell
Q: People keep telling me to network because that is where my next job will come from. I don’t know where to go or how to network. Can you give me a push to get started?
A: You’re absolutely right, networking will most likely play a role in getting you your next job. Networking has gotten a bad rap—people seem to think that it’s all about going to events where you hand out your card to a bunch of total strangers and hope someone will remember you and call you to offer a job.
That couldn’t be further from the kind of networking that works—especially if you’re looking for a new job. Here’s a better approach to networking:
Be crystal clear about your career goals. If you don’t know this, you’re not ready for networking. Don’t say something vague like “I know I need to make a change from my current job in accounting, but I don’t know if I want to go back to school to get a degree in finance or maybe move into marketing or just stay where I am.” The person hearing that will not have a clue how to help you.
Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a new opportunity. You never know where a job lead will come from. I once got a great lead from my dry cleaner; if I hadn’t told him I was looking, he wouldn’t have shared the opportunity. If you are currently working and don’t want your employer to know about your job search, ask people to keep it confidential (but know it may leak out).
Be crystal clear about your career goals. If you don’t know this, you’re not ready for networking.
Have the right tools ready. At the very least, you need business cards with your name and contact information. Some job seekers put together a special card listing their skills and strengths. Your resume should be up to date so you can send it out immediately to anyone who asks for it.
When you get a lead, follow up right away. Ask for an informational meeting of 20-30 minutes and go in with your questions prepared. Never ask that person for a job, but ask if she or he can refer you to two or three other people you might contact in your search. Most people want to be helpful. Of course, thank the person via email or a handwritten note for the time and leads.
Attend networking events in the field you want to work in (even if you dread them). Associations have networking events all the time. Go in with a plan to meet two or three people and have questions ready so you have something to talk about when you approach a group of strangers. Share your business card, and always ask people you meet for their card so you can follow up the next day with a quick email reintroducing yourself and outlining your skills and the job role you’re looking for.
Networking is part of business. Good networking is connecting with people who might be able to help you land your next job. If you want more tips, I recommend a great book by Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon called Make Your Contacts Count.
Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].