In response to our blog post about the Hidden Job Market our inbox has been filled with questions about networking. One of the biggest problems with the idea of networking is that job seekers assume it means calling everyone they know and asking for a job. This is not the best way for job seekers to network.
You need to shift your mindset. Speaking to people in your network about your availability for work or desire for a new role is quite different from calling them to ask if they have any jobs. You should view people in your network as ‘contacts’, people who will know other people and those people in turn know others. We need only turn our minds to social media and how people find and follow us – many people have reached out to past colleagues, school mates, friends you lost touch with, etc. Networking is no different.
If you tell 1 person you are looking for work and that person tells 10 other people, you’ve just increased your reach significantly. Apply the same formula if you reach out to 50 people in your network … can you start to see the potential?
We’ve established you don’t need to call everyone in your address book to hit them up for a job. So now what?
Start by developing a list of people who may be able to share that you’re looking for work. These can be former colleagues, family, friends, members of industry groups you belong to, sporting clubs, former clients, customers or suppliers, even people you met at functions – the list of possibilities is long when you start thinking about it.
Once you have your list of contacts you need to think about your approach. For contacts you have known longer and are on friendly terms with, you can call them for a catch up – go and grab a coffee and tell them what’s been happening and that you’re looking for a change. Ask them if they know of anyone looking to hire, or if they can suggest anyone you should talk to. If they say no, that’s fine, let it be. The point is they now know you are looking!
Contacting people you’ve only met once or twice can feel awkward. Take the approach that you are looking for advice rather than a job. Try saying you are in the process of planning a job search and as part of your research you wanted to ask a few quick questions – got time for a coffee? When you meet, describe your background and then ask: where would you recommend someone with my skill level look for opportunities? what are you hearing in the industry? if you do hear of any roles can you let me know? Get the gist? These approaches are professional, friendly and you haven’t asked outright for a job!
Polish your ‘pitch’ … the way you describe your skills, qualifications, experience, achievements and the value you offer potential employers is how these people will talk about you if they know anyone offering a job. You have to send a consistent, professional message in all job search communications.
You must take notes and keep accurate records of these networking approaches. Follow up on any leads you have been given and keep a record of the date, time and person you spoke with.
Networking as part of a job search takes effort. Once you’ve established a contact you have to work at maintaining the relationship. Stay in touch – not every week but if you’re still looking in a month, give them a call and update them on your activity. Find out what’s been happening in their world. You’re simply conversing with people, so be friendly and positive.
Read our Cold Calling post for tips and advice on approaching people you don’t know; many of these apply to contacting people in your network too.
I hope this post has taken some of the fear out of networking for job seekers. Use your network; people generally like helping others and you’ll be amazed at the difference it can make to a job search.
Let me tell you how this method unexpectedly helped an unemployed administrator:
I spoke to a lady last year who had a long, difficult period of unemployment. She met with a teacher at her son’s school for a parent–teacher interview. Her son needed extra help in a subject area and the mother mentioned that while tutoring was out of the question because she was unemployed, she would do the best she could with the extra time up her sleeve to assist him. The teacher asked the usual questions – how long she’d been looking, what kind of work she did, etc. Nothing more than polite conversation.
About six weeks later the teacher sent a note home asking the mum to come and see her before school about a job. She went in the next morning and the teacher said her next-door neighbour, the manager of a local business, was looking for someone with her skills because of an unexpected resignation. This all came about because the teacher was chatting to her neighbour while they watered their gardens. The lady met with the neighbour and has been employed in his company for 8 months now.
Everyone is a potential lead in a job search – don’t be shy!
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