Last time, I wrote about how using a recruiter may help pull you out of unemployment. Today I thought I’d focus on what probably is many people’s least favorite job searching tactic: Networking.
Networking is one of those nice, vague words (like “hooking up”) that can mean pretty much whatever you want it to mean. Universally, though, it’s used to describe the tactic of talking, calling, and emailing people you know in order to help you find a job.
This accomplishes several things at once. It is yet another way to shout from the rooftops “I am looking for a job!” Networking can give you access to information or job openings that aren’t posted on the internet. And, you can make professional connections that can prove beneficial later in your career.
Here’s an example. Until this summer, I worked in a small organization of about twenty people. When I gave my notice, my company didn’t instantly start looking for my replacement, as they were still figuring out what roles and duties of my job they wanted to replace. Nor did they put out a press release that I had resigned. So, anyone just looking online would have no way of knowing that there was a vacancy. However, if anyone who knew someone at my office asked if we were hiring, they’d say “Well, maybe! Someone just resigned.” That’s exactly what happened, and the woman ended up getting the job.
A lot of people are hesitant to start networking. (I know I was.) It’s pretty much a nightmare for introverts, as it requires that you make somewhat awkward social overtures repeatedly. It also feels like “cheating” in a way, because you feel like you may be exploiting your connections or people you know in order to get a leg up. Also, if you aren’t naturally a self-promoter, it can be difficult to get a hang of selling yourself and/or tooting your own horn all the time.
To get started, simply have your resume ready, as well as a mini-script or short email describing your situation and what you’re looking for. If it’s easiest, start off emailing good friends or family members and seeing if they have any ideas for you. Decide ahead of time if you’re asking for contacts, resources, ideas, resume edits, company names, or whatever else. Maybe email your brother and ask him if any of his friends are in your industry. Or ask your old roommate if her boyfriend still works for “Big Company.”
Beyond that, it’s hard to generalize how to network properly, since each industry or circumstance is different. (Examples: If you’re switching careers, you’ll need to explain your transition. If you have very specific technical skills, you won’t struggle as much as others to describe what you bring to the table.) But there are a few fairly universal pointers:
- Always follow up. Friends, former colleges, friends of friends”¦these are people who want to help you, but they’re busy with their own jobs and lives. They’re only going to help you if you ask for it. If you want people to stay on top of things, you have to keep putting the ball in their court. One way to reignite a connection that’s gone stale is to send a new version of your resume after making some small edits. Of course, you don’t want to bug anyone. But a reminder here and there can keep a connection going.
- Balance the social and the professional. There are a few different types of networking contacts. One is a second-hand contact, meaning that person doesn’t have a job for you, but they might know someone who does. I’ve spoken to a few second-hand contacts, and it’s tempting to veer off into “friendly” territory, since they aren’t actually looking to hire you. But you should really try to keep things business-like, because this contact is going to be suggesting you to other people. While it’s certainly important to be nice, and friendly, this person needs to know that you’re a serious worker and you’d be a good employee.
- Be ready to mess up. Yeah, there have been a few awkward phone calls, and more than a few unanswered emails. Some connections are non-starters, or lead you way off track. The important thing is to keep going. Networking is just one of the many tools in your job-search arsenal, so any one connection that doesn’t pan out won’t (or shouldn’t) derail your whole job search. Since I’ve been there, I can say 100% that if you blow it with one of your networking endeavors, after about an hour of dwelling on the embarrassment, you can move on.