There is little doubt that networking is the most effective method for securing a new position. But many people shy away from it; after all it doesn’t appear to be the most comfortable of activities. Nevertheless, estimates amongst career professionals indicate that between 50% -70% of people get jobs through their contacts, and this figure rises even higher during a recession. This compares with less than 20% who get their jobs using recruitment agencies or responding to advertising.
Networking gets you access to vacancies before they are advertised. Possibly even before they are known.
Feeling comfortable about networking
It is really important to stress that networking is not about asking strangers to do you favours, or to get you a job. It is far more subtle than that!
You are not asking for help. Of course that would feel uncomfortable. Particularly when it is associated with a job or work. None of us like to put pressure on people – we don’t want to oblige them to do something for us.
So let’s be clear. Networking is not about asking and taking. As a networker you have something to offer your contacts, perhaps not now but possibly in the future. Maybe you know someone you can introduce that person to. Networking is a collaborative activity- there is no obligation on you, and you should never feel that there is. If you can help you will, if not, nobody minds. Networking is self-perpetuating. As you do it more, so your network grows and this opens up opportunities that would not otherwise have presented themselves, often completely out of the blue.
Crucially, people generally like to help others if they can, especially if they can give advice. This is important to bear in mind. When you network you are not asking for a job, you are asking for advice and someone else’s expertise. If you ask for a job the process will stall immediately: if someone can’t offer you a job they can’t help you. If you ask someone a question that leads to a ‘no’ answer- like ‘can you help me get a job’ you don’t get the chance to ask them again.
The best sort of networking is when you use it to gather information in order to help you make decisions about your career. The conversations you have, and the contacts you make, should lead to potential opportunities.
Networking brings you into contact with people in the companies or industries you are targeting. These people will be able to give you advice about, and help you shape, your career ideas and plans. This will make it much easier to evaluate them.
Many of these contacts will know other people who will be able to give you advice. Many of the people you meet will work for potential employers. Through systematic exposure to these people you get closer to possible employment. As your network of contact widens so more and more people keep you in mind when possible opportunities arise.
Most networking is initiated with existing contacts. This is generally the most effective way to network as you are likely to get more committed help. However, sometimes you don’t know anyone with connections to the industries or companies you are exploring. You may therefore need to network speculatively. Rather than initiating the process by contacting somebody you know, you first need to identify potential network contacts who you don’t know. You do this through research.
Networking works because it is collegiate. The person you are talking to knows that when they need to, they can also get in touch with you, to get advice, information or contacts who will be able to help them with their career.
Networking also works because it is empowering and a little bit subversive. Companies may be in competition with each other but you are talking to people, at a human level. It gives both parties an opportunity to break out of the formal constraints of being a company employee, and to talk openly and honestly.
Example Script to Introduce Yourself to a New Contact
Hello. My name is Susan Williams. I was given your name by Jean Vincent who thought you might be able to give me some advice.
I’m in the process of changing my job and I’m exploring a number of different avenues although I’ve made no firm decisions yet and have not begun job-hunting seriously.
One area I’m looking at is the insurance industry. While I haven’t any direct experience of it I feel I have some skills that would transfer into it well and I was hoping to find out more about how my capabilities could be used in the sector.
Would you be kind enough to spare 20 minutes or so to allow me to ask you a few questions about this? I’d be happy to meet at a time and place convenient to you.
Think about how you would deal with any resistance or objections that you might meet. If your contact is unwilling to meet you, can they suggest someone else who may be available to help?
After the Meeting
Follow up. You now have a new contact for your network but that person will be lost if you don’t nurture the relationship. Email within a couple of days, or even send a card, to thank them for giving you the time and acknowledge how useful the meeting was for you. Now may be the time to put your cards on the table and state a commitment to getting into this area of work, if that’s the case. Keep in fairly regular contact during the process – perhaps a quick email every fortnight updating people on your progress and inviting them to think if they have any new ideas for you. But make sure you don’t overdo it. Nobody likes to hear from someone frequently if they have nothing of real interest to say.
Record the outcome and progress carefully. Note who you saw, their company, when, who introduced you to that person, outline the key points of the discussion and any contacts they gave you.
Nurture the contact even after you have secured your new position. The real value of networking is keeping the relationship alive even when you are not in need of help. This makes it all the easier to ask for help again in the future. If people only hear from you between jobs what will they think of you? Make yourself available to help people by keeping in touch with them from time to time. For some of your contacts that might mean going for a drink, coffee or a meal every few months, for others, it may mean an occasional update by phone or email.