4 Tips to Jumpstart Your Networking Skills!

By Simone Morris

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I recently enjoyed a wonderful experience of participating in a women’s networking session for undergraduate students at Quinnipiac University.  As I sat there answering questions from a freshman, I pondered how much more sophisticated the preparation process for landing a job had become.  Reflecting back to my collegiate years, I realize I definitely wasn’t proactive enough to have landing a job (much less learning about networking tips) on my radar in my freshman year.  Come to think of it, I was an introvert and not too focused on it in my senior year and many years beyond that.  As the students embraced the knowledge shared, it occurred to me that there are equally experienced professionals who are also job seekers and would benefit from building their networking capabilities.  In this piece, I will focus on sharing 4 networking tips that allow you to take ownership of your career and open up yourself for the abundance of opportunities you seek

The process of landing plum roles has morphed over time.  Yes, there are the traditional online applications via company sites and job posting sites like Monster, Indeed, Simply Hired, CareerBuilder, and LinkUp, but these days it is the referral and networking process that carries preferential weight and yields the best results for both sides. On numerous occasions over the past 3 months, I’ve been told that 70% of jobs are found through referrals.  I know this to be true as companies are inundated by the number of job seekers and are counting on and rewarding their employees for helping them to source and vet suitable candidates for employment.  Job seekers must capitalize on tactics that ensure their resume (cv) lands at the top of the pile.  This is why sites like LinkedIn are thriving as it focuses on leveraging large networks to land opportunities.

There is an art to networking that not everyone possesses. I speak from experience, as previously I too was not giving networking the focus it deserved in my career. I have always admired the people who are effortless at networking while others of us flounder around trying to get the words out that they are unemployed or shall we say “in transition”.  Below are four ways to improve your networking game as undoubtedly you’ll have to beef it up to stand out and land the desired opportunity.

1.  Professional Networking doesn’t begin when you need it.

After being told time and time again that networking must be an ongoing process, I have seen the light. It’s the proverbial preparation for a rainy day. A carefully cultivated network is similar to that card you have in a safe place and pull it out when an emergency arrives. You need to nurture these relationships to ensure more favorable access when you are ready to tap your network for a favor. As previously stated, I am a true believer in networking as I’ve witnessed the opportunities that literally fall into the laps of friends who are savvy networkers. While employed, it is easy to forget about networking and get caught up in fulfilling your job responsibilities. No one can blame you for focusing on what you’re ultimately being paid to do.  However, it would behoove you to regularly take a few minutes out of your day to network with others and cultivate meaningful relationships. I had an ex-boss who told me to take the time to walk around the office and chat with people.  I must confess that at the time it seemed like a time drain when pressing deadlines loomed. However, in hindsight, my perspective was flawed, as networking is something that deserves a priority spot in your day. You can always tell the people that honor the networking game as they are able to regularly land opportunities that the “non-networker” wouldn’t dream of or have a chance of landing.

2.  Embrace networking opportunities even if you dread it.

Yes, fellow introverts, I am suggesting that you do what you fear.  Organizations, conferences, industry associations, etc. are all examples of places to practice your networking prowess.  Back in my Diageo days, I remember a colleague was handing out cards during happy hour.  I thought it was strange to be handing out business cards internally but looking back, my colleague differentiated herself and used the social hour to build new relationships.  I wouldn't be surprised to hear about the opportunities that came about as a result of her networking savvy.  I think we put loads of pressure on ourselves to be the George Clooney of networking.   This means that you are calm, cool, and collected in all your networking encounters.  Allow yourself ample opportunities to mess up networking in order to build your networking acumen.  Let’s face it.  Most people don’t become amazing networkers in one day! Additionally, this is not a one shot deal.  There are always opportunities to network.

3.  Job seekers, there are valuable documents to aid in the networking process.

Those documents include the business card, the 30-second commercial, and the networking brief.  The 30-second commercial (also known as the elevator speech) really focuses on an introduction and sharing of the valuable service that you provide while the networking brief is a one-page summary that gives an overview of who you are, what you are looking for and how someone can help you accomplish your goals.  Having these tools will help you better navigate the networking process.  It’s amazing how many professionals do not have any of the above resources.  Unless you face the predicament of job loss, you’re more apt to lose sight of these key resources that can help you to manage your career.  For those that already have a job, these are resources that can still be leveraged.  Use the opportunities that present themselves to share your brand.  Companies constantly morph and being ready with these resources will certainly give you a leg up in the talent competition.

4.  Create a rocking LinkedIn profile with a professional picture is key to online networking.

Novices underestimate the power of this 277 million-user network.  They create profiles as a placeholder and shy away from investing the requisite time to create impressionable profiles that generate opportunities.  I’m equally amazed when I see far from professional profile photos that look like it would be better suited for a Facebook profile.  The good news is that LinkedIn offers tutorials that can help you update your profile to all-star strength, impacting how you show up in search results.  There are also paid services that can makeover your LinkedIn profile if you don’t have the time or patience.  This is something that I encourage you to do whether you are employed or not.  Going back to those college students I encountered last month, all of them had LinkedIn profiles.  And, the LinkedIn profile URL was on their business cards.  These students have already differentiated themselves in the job search process without starting an active search.

These tips are the tip of the iceberg in becoming a savvy networker.  Do your homework to find other resources that you can add to your networking toolkit with time.  Books like “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi and “Make Your Contacts Count” by Anne Baber are great starting resources to jumpstart or improve your networking skills.  I would suggest starting small as any of these steps can speed up the process of landing your dream role.

Simone Morris is a published thought leader for Profiles in Diversity Journal, Diversity Best Practices, Smart Recruiters, Recruitment Buzz, and Employer Brand News. 

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