How to Build and Maintain a Professional Network
These days, networking is touted as the most important thing you can do to further you’re career. And for good reason – your contacts give you the VIP treatment, moving your job applications to the top of the pile and providing a ready-made indicator of job satisfaction and company culture. And studies show that jobs you find through your network are jobs you’re more likely to stay happy in. After a year, 46% of workers who were hired through a referral stay in their role, versus 33% hired through other means.[i]
So how do you cultivate a rich business network if you’re unemployed?
The first step is recognizing the contacts you may not know you already have. High school friends? Yep. College chums? Definitely. Former coworkers, supervisors and vendors/clients that worked with you in previous jobs. Yes, those are all valuable contacts. But it doesn’t stop there.
It’s the second- and third-degree connections where the magic happens. Your immediate network of folks you know – 20 or 30 folks, say – all know 20 or 30 folks of their own. And by leveraging the power of modern social networking tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, your network of a few dozen people blooms into a network of 900 people or more, each of whom is just a friend-of-a-friend away. And when you take it to the third degree, by posting questions, meaningful content, updated about your job searches and so on, you easily expand your reach to almost 30,000 people. Surely one of them has the hot lead you’re looking for.
A.B. N. (Always Be Networking)
Networking opportunities present themselves constantly. You just have to develop the savvy to realize it. Your nephew’s bar mitzvah, your college reunion, trade shows, business lunches – even the waiting area in the airport – these are all networking opportunities waiting to be tapped. The first lesson of networking is that folks love to talk about themselves. Instead of leading with, say, “Hi, my name’s Mike, and I’m looking for a job in marketing,” start with something like, “Hi, I’m Mike – what do you do?”
Be a network detective. Find out what people do, who they know, what their needs are and what challenges they face in their careers. Their pain points are your job opportunities. They might not need a marketing guy, but man, they could sure use someone to take some of their client-relationship busywork of their plates – can you do that? What about freelance opportunities, contract gigs or invites to meetings and lunches where you could simply sit in, learn how their company operates and collect some names and business cards?
Always follow up. Send a nice email or LinkedIn message to cement you in your new contact’s mind. And keep your network warm. Even if your job hunt is still fruitless, regular messages, just checking in and asking how things are going can reignite a dormant relationship and give you access to an opportunity that might not have been there a week or a month ago.
It’s never been easier or more lucrative to be a networking pro. You already have the tools – your analytical mind, your social skills and your internet social media presence – so turning those assets into a job-search channel is the single best thing you can do to supercharge your career.