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Job Search Skills

Expanding Your Job Search Network

by Julie Dobrinska
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Networking involves the exchanging of information or services with others. "Career networking" is the cultivation of relationships for employment purposes and has become an integral part of the job search process. Experts state that 60% or more of all jobs are filled through networking. It is also not uncommon for a job to be filled through networking before a vacancy is even advertised.

So if you are in the job search market, it is imperative that you brush up on your networking skills. In fact, even if you are presently employed, you should have an effective network in place. You never know when you might need to tap into it.

The purpose of networking is not to ask for a job, but to talk to individuals who can connect you with people who can help you get a job. You're simply trying to expand your job search possibilities by getting referrals and contact names. Networking changes a "cold call" to a warm one – if you are able to say, "I received your name from so-and-so" you stand a much better chance of getting somewhere with them. They may not have an obligation to you, but they most likely think enough of the person you mention to at least talk with you and try to help you out.

1. Make a list of networking contacts.
Whether you realize it or not, you already have a personal network. Everyone does. Your family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances are all part of your existing network. Make a list of everyone you can think of, regardless of whether or not you think they will be helpful. Think in terms of groups or categories. Some areas to explore include:

  • Family, immediate and extended – including cousins, in-laws, aunts and uncles, etc.
  • Friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.
  • Review your Christmas card list, your email contacts, and your address book.
  • Employers & co-workers from previous jobs, as well as vendors, suppliers, and consultants.
  • Service providers – list your doctor, your dentist, your hairdresser, insurance agent, accountant, etc.
  • Classmates from high school, college or vocational school. Also include people you've met through professional development classes or training programs (fellow attendees, instructors, and speakers).
  • Community groups, clubs and organizations –such as book clubs, volunteer organizations, church, health clubs, PTO, etc.
  • Professional or Trade Associations in your industry – if you are not already a member, look into joining. If it is cost-prohibitive, try and obtain a membership directory or check for an online directory.

Joe Girard, the World's Greatest Salesperson (according to Guinness Book of World Records) came up with the "Law of 250", which states that every person on the average knows at least 250 people. How many contacts can you come up with?

2. Establish your presence with online networking.
In today's job search world, it is also necessary to network online.  There are many avenues for online networking, but an increasingly important one is LinkedIn.  Many employers now check out professional applicants on LinkedIn before they do anything else.

LinkedIn can do more than present your credentials and experience. For an immediate reference, get colleagues or clients to write a Recommendation. To provide a “work sample” of your expertise, answer relevant questions in the “Answers” section.  Get your colleagues to recommend you for specific skills and abilities.  Join relevant interest groups.  And explore all the other ways that LinkedIn can help. 

There are many other websites that promote networking, including Facebook, Classmates.com, and Monster.com.  And don't forget your professional association or alumni group. 

3. Get out and circulate.
In addition to networking online and via telephone, it's important to get out in person as well. This will help to keep your spirits up and give you more opportunities to network. A few ideas for mingling include:

  • Volunteer your time at a local food pantry, shelter or other charitable organization.
  • Go to chamber events or luncheons.
  • Attend a seminar or class offered through your local technical institute or community college.
  • Go to church or attend other social gatherings.

4. Tell everyone you know you are looking for a job.
Think of your network as an extension of yourself. You will be able to reach many more people if you enlist the help of your contacts. Not in desperation, but rather to let them know you are looking for work, in case they know of someone who might be interested in giving you an opportunity. "I'm exploring other avenues in my career and wanted you to know."

5. Draft a script if you need to.
It's not uncommon to feel nervous or intimidated about the prospect of networking. You can reduce your anxiety by being prepared; having a script you can follow if necessary. You will also become more comfortable after you've made a few calls. Remember to:

  • Be polite and considerate of others' time.
  • Be honest and straightforward, but don't volunteer unnecessary information.
  • Be positive and upbeat. Instead of saying you are "unemployed", you can say you are in the "process of a career change"

6. Make it easy for people to talk about you.
It's important that you remain fresh in the minds of people in your network. Here are a few ways to distribute information about yourself:

  • Offer to send all contacts a copy of your resume.
  • Print up business cards with your contact information so that you can hand them out to people you meet. This can be done very inexpensively through your local office supply store or through an online site such as vistaprint.com.
  • Follow up your telephone conversation with a brief email summarizing your qualifications and highlighting a few of your accomplishments. This makes it very convenient for your contacts to forward your information.
  • Write an article for a trade magazine or website in your area of expertise.

7. Keep a record.
You can do this any way you'd like, including using a journal, a set of index cards and dividers, or an online database. (If you use an online database, be sure to keep it backed up!) Be sure to include the following information:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Company or organization
  • Job Title or position
  • How you know them - This may sound like an unnecessary step - of course you know that David Barker is your tennis coach; but as you expand your network, the relationship may not be so obvious – Bob Jones, David Barker's mother's dentist.
  • Date of contact
  • Action taken/result
  • Next Steps/follow-up date

If you've agreed to touch base again on a certain date, be sure to enter that information in your calendar. It's important that you do what you say you are going to do when networking. It builds your personal credibility. And be sure to follow-up with thank-you notes or emails whenever appropriate.

8. Nurture your network with some TLC.
Once you create a network, be sure to maintain it. The key to successful networking is to have mutually beneficial relationships. If you only use your network when you need something, it will not be nearly as powerful as it could be.

  • Keep in touch. Send occasional notes and well wishes. Remember birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Give back – volunteer your time for a person's favorite charity or serve as a mentor to someone who needs help.
  • Share information – article in a trade journal or newspaper – you feel might be interesting or helpful to the individual.

Networking isn't hard, but it does require planning, organization, and a little elbow grease. The more effective your network is, the better your chances are for obtaining a job. You must be willing to invest the time and energy into the process in order to reap the benefits.

There are numerous resources to help you through this process. Several websites offer Career Networking advice. You can get started by typing "networking" into your favorite search engine.   Many books and articles have also been published on the topic of networking. Here are a few we found helpful:

  • The Ultimate Job Search by Richard H. Beatty
  • The Unofficial Guide to Landing a Job by L. Michelle Tullier, Ph.D.
  • Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi

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