Networking can take many forms, but the most basic way to think about networking is “connecting.” When you connect with people, or help other people connect with each other, you are networking.
There are many articles and websites to help you learn about what works and doesn’t work in networking. If you do a bit of research, you may notice several common themes emerge. Specifically, according to most experts, networking is:
- NOT an activity you pursue only when you’re out of work and trying to find a job. Rather, networking is something you do on an ongoing basis. You should think about networking while you are working, not wait until you're unemployed.
- Something you should do with purpose. This means you need to think about and plan how to manage and expand your network in ways that will help you reach your goals.
- A “give and take” activity, with a focus on giving, rather than taking. Be sure to send job leads to the people in your network, or help them out in other ways, whether you’re working or unemployed.
Many people will tell you that more jobs are found through networking than help-wanted ads. Because networking results in personal introductions, it can help you:
- Bypass “screeners,” and get your resume directly into the hands of people who make hiring decisions, and
- Make contacts within hiring organizations (which results in an even larger network!)
Where to Network
There are many places to network. Here are just a few:
- Professional associations,
- Church or community groups,
- Volunteer organizations,
- Sports groups,
- School groups or associations,
- State, county or municipal professional networking groups,
- Online communities, and
- Social networking websites.
As online social networking is quickly becoming one of the most powerful tools you can use to increase the success of your job search efforts, let’s explore this form of networking in a bit more detail.
Online Social Networking
In the past few years, many online social networking sites have become popular for networking, but none are as popular for developing professional, or work-related, networks as LinkedIn (http://www.LinkedIn.com). LinkedIn enables you to:
- Stay in touch with co-workers, even when you’re no longer with the same employer.
- Easily expand your own network by tapping into those of friends, family members, and former and current co-workers.
- Find and join groups or communities, including those that are job-specific, through which to share ideas, information, and job leads.
- Interact with recruiting firms and Human Resources Departments.
- Learn about job openings.
- Research employers.
So how might you use LinkedIn in a job search? If you’ve identified an employer that might have good job opportunities for you, you could search on LinkedIn for employees, or friends of friends who might work for those companies. Don’t be shy about asking a mutual contact to make an introduction, especially if you’ve offered to help that person in the recent past.
Many other social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and others, are also being used for professional networking, though some people prefer to keep them for their personal use. You should become familiar with them, and determine what will work best for you in your networking efforts.
A WORD OF CAUTION: Keep your internet presence and networks professional! Many employers are doing internet searches to see what they can find out about job applicants and employees. If you’ve ever shared on Facebook that you went shopping on a sick day, for example, a potential employer could see this and decide you’re not the kind of employee they’d like to hire. Avoid posting pictures or messages, whether work-related or not, that may cause an employer to form a negative impression of you. This includes references to partying, controversial social and political views, interpersonal conflicts, and anything else on which you may be judged.
Many people, especially those who are shy, fear networking. They think networking is attending meetings, making a “pitch” for yourself, or constantly shaking hands with people you don’t know. In reality, you’re networking every time you interact with other people. You create an impression or image of yourself in whatever you’re doing, whether it’s talking to the cashier at the grocery store, attending a PTA meeting, or going to a ball game. People with whom you interact form opinions about you and, if they like you, will probably be willing to help you if you ask them.
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