There is plenty of research which shows that the most likely way for you to get a job is through your contacts. Networking may not always be the most comfortable of job strategies, but it is far more effective than anything else, and it is worth concentrating most of your time on. The problem comes however when it feels as if you have exhausted your network, and yet you’ve got no further with your job search.
It’s important to appreciate that networking is not a once-only process that you undertake when you are looking for a job and then forget about. In fact, if the only time you get in touch with your contacts is when you need something from them, then you’re not networking effectively. But even so, although networking should be a career-long activity, most of us are not very good at keeping in touch with our contacts, until something happens to make us realise that we need them.
You know you need to network but you haven’t kept in touch with the majority of your contacts and you’ve run out of networking options. What do you do?
The answer is that you revive your contact list, even if it feels awkward. Not that you ask your contacts for their help in finding a job, you should never do that because it puts them in a position where they may have to say no, and nobody likes that. Instead, if you can, go to your contacts with something to offer them. Doing so will increase your chances of hearing something from them which may benefit you.
Think about each contact individually. Because you are actively exploring the job market whilst they are more narrowly focused on their job, there’s a good chance that you will hear things that they don’t. You may come across information that might be useful to one of them. It might be about a job opening somewhere, a sales opportunity or a technical development in their field; it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it is of some value to them it will give you an opportunity to begin or re-open your conversation.
Alternatively you may feel that two of your contacts ought to get to know each other, for their own networking benefit. You can contact each of them, explain why you think it is a good idea for them to meet, bring them together and in that way begin conversations with each of them.
Another way of establishing contact with people is to ask if they are attending a forthcoming event, or conference. You might suggest you travel there together; or you might offer to report back on it if they are not going.
But what if you can’t find something to offer your contacts which will be of benefit to them? As we said, its best not to ask them directly for help in finding a job. But you can ask for their advice or opinion. It’s not as good as offering them something, but it’s better than nothing.
Typical questions you might ask are “I’m looking at a job in a your industry and I’d like to be more informed about what is going on, can I come and have a chat with you?”. Or you may say “My career path to date has been quite similar to yours and I am thinking about my next step, can I come and talk to you about your experiences?” The beauty of questions like this is that they aren’t threatening, they don’t put your colleague on the spot, and they flatter them to some degree because you are treating them as an expert, which most people enjoy.
It is important to treat networking as a two-way process. You and your contacts are each helping each other, even though your needs may differ from time to time. If you look at networking in this way, working though your contact list and asking yourself, for each one, what can I tell or offer them, you should find it quite easy to think of reasons for getting in touch. You will also find that your contacts will start to think of you as someone worth knowing; and will be more likely to put you in touch with other people.