Developing contacts that can help open up employment opportunities.
All relationships offer some sort of benefit, whether it’s friendship, knowledge, or simply a chance to know someone new. A network is a supportive system made up of these relationships, built around sharing information and services among individuals who have a common interest or connection.
Networking—actively cultivating relationships with people who might be helpful to you professionally, either in finding employment or moving to a higher position—is an important skill, particularly for an active job seeker. Just like any other skill, becoming a good networker requires a lot of practice. In your daily life, many opportunities to network will present themselves, you just need to identify and act on them.
Expanding Your Network
Have you ever noticed those people at a party who go from group to group introducing themselves, mingling and meeting everyone in the room? Most likely, these folks are great at networking. For some people, this kind of socializing comes easily. For others, especially if you’re shy or think you lack the right social skills, it can be difficult. We are all are uncomfortable about doing some things (or many things!) yet in order to achieve our goals it’s often important to do these things anyway. Remember that expanding your network is a skill that requires practice. The more you practice, the easier it will become. Also remember why it’s important to expand your network: the larger your network, the better chance you have of finding suitable work.
When meeting new people, be aware of how you present yourself. Practice carrying yourself in a positive manner and work on appearing confident and competent. Share agreeable, affirmative information about yourself.
Below are some ideas for how and where to meet new people for your network.
Organizations and Social Groups
Organized clubs and groups are great opportunities for networking. Joining church groups, local professional organizations, student groups, groups for young professionals, committees within your town, projects at your local library or schools, and community causes are all great ways to meet others.
Volunteering is a great way to meet people and make connections. If you can find a volunteer position that is somehow related to the job you’re interested in pursuing, so much the better.
Here is an example of how volunteering can help expand your network and create new opportunities: Jim, a college student, volunteered with many organizations. Two of the things he did were handing out flyers on campus and selling things for fundraisers. These activities naturally put him in contact with a lot of people, and Jim made an effort to be outgoing, friendly, and curious about the people he met every day. Because Jim took advantage of the visibility his volunteer work gave him, he became well known on campus.
While at an event on campus, a professor at the college approached Jim and asked what he was doing in school and what his plans were after graduation. As it turns out, the professor owned a number of businesses and wanted to discuss a possible job opportunity with Jim. Jim’s activities on campus brought him to the attention of the professor, and because the professor was able to see Jim’s performance at his volunteer work, Jim made an impression on the professor. Because Jim was working hard to network and help organizations reach for their goals, the professor became a potential employer.
Out and About
Networking occasions can occur at any point in time. You could be on a plane, train, bus, or at a subway stop when the next opportunity presents itself. In a sense, people are always on job interviews. Think of every encounter as an interview, and every new person as a new contact or a possible new member in your personal network. Try not to miss an opportunity to network, as that opportunity may never be available again.
Maintaining Your Network
It’s important to maintain your personal network by keeping in touch on a regular basis so your contacts remember you. The best way to keep contacts engaged is to regularly communicate with them about what’s going on in their lives. Though you might share information about yourself along the way, the most effective way to build relationships is to be curious and enthusiastic about what other people are doing. It would not hurt to keep a file of your contacts with some notes of things you’ve discussed. Keep the files updated and look through them to refresh your memory before calling or e-mailing someone in your network.
Social Networking: Pros and Cons
Social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter make it very easy to share information with people. These tools can support and bolster your job search, but if used recklessly they can also do some serious damage to your relationships and image.
Because potential employers now review these sites to see how applicants represent themselves, it’s important to think about what you are posting, who might see it, and how it might reflect upon you. Regardless of your privacy settings, remember that you have very little control over what happens to anything you choose to share on the Internet. It’s always best to assume that anything you post will be visible to a potential employer. What might be a funny joke to your close personal friends could appear to be unprofessional or irresponsible to someone considering you for a position. Always be extremely careful about what you post on social networking sites and always think twice before sharing personal or casual information through these outlets.
On the other hand, you can take advantage of using social networking sites to easily keep your contacts fresh, to keep informed about and engaged with what people in your network are doing, and to represent yourself in a favorable and positive light. Since the majority of jobs are filled through co-workers recommending someone from their network or a friend’s network, careful and considerate social networking can be a great support your job search.
Never Stop Networking
Even if you currently have a job, continue to expand and maintain your network. Getting a better job is easier if you’re currently employed, and if you keep active with your network your contacts will be more likely to think about you when an opportunity arises.