I recently worked with a client who hadn’t formally interviewed in more than 15 years…
Since you’re reading this, you probably don’t love networking and are wondering what the hype is all about (and whether networking is truly necessary even though you need a job). Does that sound about right?
If so, I’ve created a list of networking tips for job seekers, to guide and empower you as you build this valuable skill. I’ve ordered this list by starting with baby steps, or what most people find easier, to encourage you to pick the low-hanging fruit first, which will help you gain confidence.
Networking Tips for Job Seekers, from Simple to Advanced
Think of networking simply as communicating.
At its most basic level, networking is communicating with other people—building and sustaining relationships by helping each other. Most of us do this in our daily lives. Take a deep breath, let it out, and don’t overcomplicate matters. You’ve got this.
Talk to people in your personal network about your situation and goals.
People often correlate networking with talking to strangers (which it is sometimes), but it isn’t only that. If you find yourself in a situation in which you need a new job, you can’t expect people to help you or connect you with opportunities if they don’t know your circumstances.
Think of people you interact with routinely. They might be family and friends as well as members of your gym, religious institution, or neighborhood. Schedule a meeting, send a text, or pick up the phone and tell people. You might be surprised at how quickly some will want to help.
Reconnect with colleagues and friends.
Surely I’m not the only one who has colleagues and friends with whom I’ve lost touch and would be good to reconnect with. Use this time as an opportunity to contact them, ask how they are doing, and share information in return. Again, these are people who might know of opportunities and will be inclined to help.
Build your LinkedIn network.
As you’re talking with people in your network and reconnecting with others, be sure to request to connect with them on LinkedIn. By expanding your LinkedIn network, you will be opening yourself up to even more opportunities. Make it a habit to add new connections every week, or even several times a week. Do so by sending customized requests by choosing the “add a note” option. (For more about this, please see my LinkedIn blog miniseries and be sure to check out the companion videos, too!)
Increase your LinkedIn activity.
In addition to expanding your network, share content that builds your professional brand, engage with others’ content, follow companies that interest you, and connect with people in your alumni network—especially those who work in the same field as you or who work at employers that interest you. Collectively, these activities build your visibility and can help create opportunities. Of course, you can also search for jobs, set job search alerts, reach out to recruiters, and apply for jobs in LinkedIn.
This is the part where some people cringe and wonder if they really must attend events. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but yes, it is good practice to attend networking events. I am an introvert and understand how challenging it can be to do this. Here are ways to make in-person networking events more manageable.
- Choose events that interest you and align with your field. For instance, in my area there are organizations for professionals in the life sciences fields, marketing professionals in transition, and HR professionals in transition, among many others. Examples of a couple specific organizations are Women in Bio and Carolina Women in Tech. Churches sometimes have career ministries, too. Networking events are plentiful, so use Google to identify ones near you. Mark your calendar and hold yourself accountable to attend.
- Bring a friend if it helps keep you accountable, but don’t use them as a crutch. Ask a friend to attend with you if networking is a major hurdle, but you must make sure you talk to people other than that friend.
- Practice how you introduce yourself (aka your elevator pitch) before you attend. An elevator pitch is a brief introduction of who you are, the value you bring to an employer, and which employers most interest you. The goal is for you to be able to state this information in less than a minute while sounding natural—and not like you memorized a script.
- Set a goal for how many people you will talk to. It’s much better to have a meaningful conversation with 4–5 people who you connect with on LinkedIn and then follow up with during a coffee meeting than to have brief interactions with 30 people who you never communicate with again.
- Look for people who are standing by themselves. These people are probably just like you: uncomfortable with networking! They will likely appreciate you approaching them and starting a conversation.
- Be a good conversationalist—and timekeeper. We all know what a good conversation feels like: you connect, share ideas, build rapport—and time flies. Focus on the person you are speaking with at that moment, listen deeply to them, and make sure you also get to share information about yourself Make sure you don’t spend the whole time talking to one person though; after you have a meaningful exchange, circulate to other people in the room.
- Establish next steps. End conversations by exchanging business cards and asking for a follow-up coffee meeting, when you can share more information and learn about how you can help each other. This step is crucial. If you fail to do this, then the initial 5- to 10-minute discussion will never lead to a longer relationship.
Network to give rather than to receive.
When you have conversations, think of others first. As counterintuitive as this may seem, givers gain. This philosophy of “givers gain” is a hallmark of Dr. Ivan Misner and the global networking organization he built, BNI. The idea is that you network with the intent to help others first. If you do that, people will want to help you in return.
Wondering how to kick off a conversation? Here are a few icebreaker questions:
- What prompted you to attend this event?
- Did you do anything exciting or fun this weekend?
- What you do for work?
- What do you like most about your work?
- If you’re looking to meet new people or for a new role, how can I help?
A key point I make when sharing networking tips for job seekers is that networking shouldn’t cease when you land a job; it should be ongoing throughout your career. View networking as relationship building. Staying connected to your network and expanding your network consistently can help you over time. When a person finds themselves in transition or wanting to change roles, it’s much easier when they have a long list of people to contact and share their intentions with than if they’ve lost touch with everyone but their immediate colleagues.
You might not ever love networking, but start with baby steps and work your way toward knowing how to network. Apply these tips, talk to others, and see how you can help them. If you help your network, your network will help you in return.