Job Search Networking: Sipping Champagne or Hitting the Pavement?
By Catherine Cunningham - Career Specialist - Australia
Mention the word 'networking' and most people think of sipping champagne at a business function and exchanging business cards.
Meeting new business contacts this way is a valid form of networking, but it has a very low return on investment. It generally takes many meetings and a long time before a genuine connection is made.
When it comes to looking for a job, another low return version of networking is to ask your friends to look out for possible opportunities. This 'sending out feelers' approach works well in a booming economy or if you have a skill set that is in demand. If not, the trail comes to a quick end with no job offer.
What is Job Search Networking?
Job Search Networking is a precise, targeted approach where you harness the power of other people to aid your Job Search. Done correctly, it is not a matter of casual conversations with people you meet. It is a calculated campaign to contact people for ideas, suggestions and information.
It allows you to take charge of your own future. You pursue leads and possibilities wherever they take you. And, as happened with myself when I engaged in it many years ago, you are more likely to discover the job of your dreams.
Job Search Networking has other benefits. It can help you research career options and new industries. Often when you are focused on getting a job you do not sufficiently analyse whether the organisation fits your set of values, resulting in you being employed but unhappy. Job Search Networking is an effective means of learning about the culture of an organisation and obtaining vital information that can prevent you from making a poor career or job choice.
It is also a powerful strategy if you are looking to 'reinvent' yourself, perhaps because your previous line of work is no longer available or no longer desirable.
Job Search Networking is like baking a cake. You need all the ingredients, in the right order. Follow the process and it works. Very few people are aware of Job Search Networking or how to do it well. So, adopting this strategy places you well and truly ahead of the pack.
Tip #1: Take on board the concept
The aim of Job Search Networking is to explore whether your abilities, skills and background fit employment in a particular business, industry or organisation. And if so, whether there are any current employment opportunities that offer good prospects for a rewarding job.
A key factor in making this a positive interaction for all involved is to realise the value of the discussion itself - this meeting with someone who can give you good advice on how you should craft your future career is an incredibly worthwhile exercise. It is also an opportunity to showcase your worth through well thought out, genuinely relevant questions on the sector (so do your homework). Your proactivity means that at the very least you are building a great network of referrals for future opportunities.
This creates a win-win situation - you get good advice as well as a chance to highlight your talents, and the person you have gone to for advice is flattered to be seen as having a valuable opinion, which makes most people generous with their time. Conversely, if you go with the sole purpose in mind of being offered a job, you risk a lose-lose situation as you may not be offered one, or the person you are meeting may not (currently) have a job to offer you and this shuts down the discussion straight away.
- Understand that many employers use networking to find employees.
Rather than advertise available positions, many savvy employers prefer to rely on referrals from someone they trust to fill vacancies. They believe that they cut the cost of recruiting and end up with a better candidate, and they are usually right as they are presented with proactive people.
- Accept that most people like to help others.
This is particularly true if you are straight out of school or University. Many people in the business community find it immensely satisfying to offer support and will go out of their way to offer you further leads and contacts.
- Take a swings and roundabouts attitude to Job Search Networking.
You may be uncomfortable asking person after person to support you in your next career move. It may make you feel that you are 'using' people. One way to overcome this reaction is to resolve to play your part in future to help another person make a good career move.
- Believe that you can contribute reciprocal value.
View Job Search Networking as something more than an activity simply designed to help you. If you focus on what you can offer to the relationship, it will increase your feeling of authenticity.
Tip #2: Master the technique
The essence of Job Search Networking is to arrange a face to face meeting with contacts and to ask for advice, not a job. The process is very precise.
I must say that very few of my clients get this right at their first shot. They come back from their initial attempts and proudly announce that they have 'been networking'. When I gently probe, it becomes clear that they have either been given the name of a Recruiter from this meeting or that their acquaintance has promised to look out for any opportunities on their behalf. Neither of these outcomes represents Job Search Networking and they seldom achieve results.
There are two clear stages to successful Job Search Networking. First, make sure that you clearly understand the technique. Second, practice on at least six acquaintances before you contact the stranger and, in addition, confirm the correctness of your approach with an expert.
- Meet with an acquaintance.
Explain clearly your Job Search strategy and ask for further contacts who might give valuable advice to you.
- Phone this unknown contact to ask for a short meeting to, once again, ask their advice on your Job Search strategy.
When it is done correctly, each individual meeting with a new contact either results in a job offer or the referral to another contact who offers either a job or a valuable referral to another contact of theirs. And so the pattern continues. As a general rule of thumb, a job offer eventuates from the third or fourth person in the chain of meetings.
- Obtain at least two further leads from each network meeting.
Of course, you may not get two leads from each contact but this should still be your aim. When people give you a name they are putting their credibility on the line, so the name they give you will be a powerful contact and should be used as such.
- Offer something of value to the contacts you meet.
Do some research before the meeting. That way, you are likely to energise the interaction so that you and your new contact enjoy the discussion.
- Maintain faith that each individual meeting has possibilities.
It is only when a job offer eventuates that the pathway that led to it becomes apparent. Often, a meeting you pin your hopes on leads nowhere, whereas another meeting with someone who is ostensibly less influential ends up landing you with a great job offer.
A recent study on networking in the December 2014 issue of Administrative Science Quarterly reported that professional networking makes people feel unclean, so much so that they subconsciously crave cleansing products. We are a bizarre species at times!
The authors hypothesised that professional networking increases feelings of inauthenticity and immorality and therefore feelings of dirtiness much more so than networking to make friends. Yet the study also showed that networking had a positive association with job performance.
Job Search Networking is the most powerful technique available for getting a new job. It means that you are taking charge of your own future instead of hoping and praying that a good job materialises over the horizon. Along the way, you develop strong interview skills as each encounter is, in effect, an unofficial sales meeting. As a valuable by-product, you usually grow in confidence as you receive positive feedback each time.
Ask yourself whether you are prepared to push the boundary of your comfort zone and use an unconventional Job Search method to win your next job. Do you have the intestinal fortitude to use this rare but effective technique?
If you do, there really is no downside. I would never have become a career specialist if I had not arranged that fateful networking meeting all those years ago. Yet, everyone who knows me can attest to how happy I am in this field and what a good fit it is for me.
At a minimum, you will emerge from your Job Search campaign a stronger, more resilient person. You will also be clearer about what you want to do, what you can offer and what is important to you. The effect will radiate out from you to your loved ones and will probably help shape your future career happiness.
That hoary old phrase, 'The world is your oyster' is likely to ring true. What a great career outcome.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Cunningham is the author of My Career Rules! and is one of Australia's leading career experts. She appears regularly in The Weekend Australian Careers section, in The Advertiser's CareerOne, as well as in online publications such as news.com.au, thenewdaily.com.au and womensagenda.com.au
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