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Practical Guide To Networking

What comes to your mind when you think about networking? Entering a crowded and oftentimes noisy room full of strangers, handing out business cards indiscriminately and bouncing from one party to the next? This scenario leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s no wonder many people approach networking with great trepidation and ditch it altogether. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

First, however, realize that networking is here to stay. It is an essential part of your job hunt, whether you are looking for a new position or making contacts for a future career move. Remember the old saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know that counts”? While that may not always ring true, when you consider that many companies report that about 40-50 percent of their jobs are filled through referrals, the “who” part becomes particularly important.

The good news is that networking does not have to be forced or uncomfortable. Even if you’re shy or introverted, there is a way to network that’s natural. For example, one of the first questions people ask when they initially meet is “What do you do?” Think about it—hasn’t this happened to you at weddings, family barbecues, at a birthday party or even at an office gathering where departments congregate that normally wouldn’t? 

This means that you are already networking all the time, whether you know it or not. The next time you leave for work, make a note of all the people you come into contact with during the course of the entire day. The results are bound to surprise you. From the person who hands you your morning cup of coffee to a neighbor you bump into upon returning home, networking opportunities abound.   But it is up to you to capitalize on them. Here’s how.

It’s All About the Relationships
Networking: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” –Merriam-Webster

Networking does not happen in a vacuum. Typically, your networking circle consists of the following:
• Colleagues (both former and present)
• Family (including immediate as well as cousins, uncles, aunts, in-laws, etc.)
• Friends (people with whom you socialize on a regular basis)
• Acquaintances (those you touch base with occasionally)

Note that these are people with whom you are already familiar. You are starting with friendly faces, people who are most likely willing to lend a helping hand because they already have a relationship with you.   For anyone, and especially for those who are shy or introverted, this is an invaluable launching pad.

But before you reach out to these groups, some pre-networking steps are required.

Be True to Thyself
This means conducting an honest self-assessment and knowing what it is you want out of your next job, as well as what you don’t want. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Why are you looking? What have been some of your professional achievements and even personal achievements if they are related to the position or industry you want to get into?

Prepare a brief Personal Sales Presentation
Now that you’ve done your self-assessment, have something in mind so that when you reach out to your contacts (or when you bump into someone fortuitously), you’re ready to talk about what you’re looking for and what you’ve done, based on the insights gleaned from step 1.  Refer to FPCs’ “Perfecting Your Two-Minute Personal Sales Presentation article for more tips on how to do this.

Make a List of Your Networking Circle
Compile a list that includes the names of those in your networking circle, what they do, the company they work for and their contact information. Cast your net wide—if a friend’s spouse (or cousin or friend of a friend) works in a manufacturing firm you would like to get into, include that piece of information in your notes. Look beyond what your immediate circle can provide. Now you are expanding your networking connections exponentially, and you haven’t even reached out to anyone yet! When you’re done and you review this list, chances are you will be pleasantly surprised at the valuable resources at your fingertips.
With the preliminary steps completed, it’s now time for the next step.

Get the Word Out
After all, no one will know you’re looking if you keep it to yourself. Getting the word out does not mean you become an instant network fiend (“I will contact all 30 people on my list this week!”). Instead, it’s a process that evolves at its own pace. In the weeks ahead, contact those on your list and suggest meeting for lunch or after work. If that’s not feasible, schedule a time when you can converse over the phone. (Here is when your pitch comes in handy. Once you get to speak with that person, you’ll come across as already knowing what you’re looking for and having done your homework.) Email is another possibility. Make a note of non-work events coming up where you’ll have the opportunity to pass on the word to family members or friends.

Ask your contacts if they know of any potential opportunities available or individuals who may be able to offer some advice. Keep in mind that many companies have referral programs where cash or other incentives are rewarded to their employees if they successfully recommend someone for a job. So there can be something in it for your contacts as well. Ask too if they know of others who might be able to help. If so, can they provide you with the name and contact information of that person? If not, let them know that they should feel free to pass on your contact information.

Be honest if you were let go from your previous job. Try not to let embarrassment stand in the way. One of the pluses of reaching out first to those you know is that they tend to be more sympathetic and can provide candid feedback, giving you renewed strength and confidence to continue to the next step.

Business Cards—Never Leave Home Without Them
Always have your business cards handy and especially if you’re meeting one of your contacts. With business cards, be prepared to give, give, give and collect, collect, collect. When someone gives you a card, make a note on the back of the conversation you had so you don’t forget. If you’re speaking to your contact via the phone, send an email that contains all your contact information, so that person will have it when something comes up.

Follow Up
It’s amazing how many people don’t do this. You can have the greatest collection of business cards or list of contacts, but they’re not doing anything for you if they’re just gathering dust. Follow up immediately, while you’re still fresh in the person’s mind. If you are asked to send your resume, do so as soon as possible. If someone provided you with a referral, ask your contact to put in a word for you before you act on it. Then do so immediately.

Stay Connected in Good Times and Bad
No one likes a fair-weather person. People don’t usually appreciate someone reaching out to them only when a favor is needed. That’s why it’s important to stay in touch even during those times when you’re not looking. You never know when you will be, and it’s a good idea to keep your options open at all times. It doesn’t take much to send an occasional email (“Just want to see how you are doing”) or pick up the phone.

Don’t Just Think About Yourself
It’s not all about you. Networking is not one-sided. It’s easy to become so immersed in your job search that you forget about what you can do for others in your circle. Put people in touch with potential leads that would benefit them. If you see an article that someone might be interested in, send it off, along with a note. By looking out for the other person, chances are that when an opportunity does arise, you’ll be on top of that person’s list.

Remain Visible
Plan an event for your alumni association. Take on a project in your company if you can fit it in with your current responsibilities. Volunteer to give a speech for a trade or professional association. Prefer something more behind the scene? Then write an article in a trade or professional newsletter instead. Or take a less high-profile role on a project, but at least join the team. All this is exposing you to diverse professionals whom you might otherwise never meet. Plus, you get the chance to be seen and heard.

Web Job Sites: The Whole Truth
Some people think that all networking entails—and all they have to do to find a job—is to send their resumes through the various job sites available on the Web. Find a job you like, click “Send”—it’s all so simple. While job boards may have a role in today’s marketplace, you are doing absolutely nothing to make yourself stand out.

Consider how many people have the same idea, and how many resumes a company gets to just a single position advertised online. One hiring manager recalls getting over 100 resumes a day to a job posted on one of the sites. With that kind of volume, chances are that a company is not sorting through each and every resume it receives. Instead, many companies use a technology that screens for certain key words the company is looking for. If your resume doesn’t contain those words, you’re out of the running—and you may be perfectly qualified for the position.

Think too about the essence of networking, which is the cultivation of relationships. What kind of a relationship are you forming when you blast your resume into cyberspace, often to an anonymous party on the other end? Who is seeing your resume? Who can you contact to follow up? Where is your resume landing?

The Final Word: How FPC Can Help
Part of networking is to find and work with a well respected recruiter who is an expert in your industry and who you can trust to expose you to the highest quality opportunities available. Among its many areas of expertise, FPC prides itself on being networking specialists. When you work with an FPC recruiter, you are opening the door to countless numbers of quality companies and organizations which will increase your opportunity exponentially. We know that in today’s busy and rushed world, it can be difficult to network effectively—and we’re here to help. You can count on us to listen to your wants and needs and to match you up with a company that will best meet your career goals.

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