Job Search: Networking Tips
Networking is about collecting information and getting the names of new people to talk to, not asking someone for a job. By talking to enough people and collecting enough information, you will hear of career opportunities and how to pursue them.
Mutually Beneficial Focused
Networking works when you form mutually-beneficial relationships; you and your contact need to have something to offer each other, either now or in future. You have to feel comfortable with each other and shouldn’t feel that you are asking your contacts for favours or are in some way indebted to them.
Your initial approach should be done in a way that doesn’t embarrass you or make you feel awkward. Some people are happier initiating contact by phone, others by email or even letter. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, so use whichever one you are most comfortable with.
Your initial approach to a potential networking contact should reflect this. A good opening approach to a networking contact could go something like this: Adapt it to suit the objectives you have set for each contact and your particular circumstances:
“I was given your name by XX who thought you might be able to give me some advice/ we might have some interests in common.
“One area I’m looking at is the [industry/ company]. I am trying to find out about [your objectives] and wondered if you would you be kind enough to spare 20 minutes or so to allow me to ask you a few questions about this? My background is in […] and we may well be able to share information.”
Of course you want to adapt it to suit the objectives you have set for each contact and your particular circumstances.
Some people you approach will be quite willing to meet, others may prove more difficult. If you encounter resistance, try to explain – without being too pushy – that you just want to have a chat and that you are not asking them to put themselves in a difficult position. If you still can’t get a meeting, don’t take it personally, just move on to your next contact.
Be sure to have an agenda. Once you have your meeting arranged you need to structure the conversation to achieve your objectives. Be clear about what you want to get from the meeting and prepare your questions in advance. Start the meeting by introducing yourself and your career background concisely. Briefly outline your experience to date and your goals, and then move onto your information-gathering questions. These might include:
- How did you start in this area?
- How do you think your company’s culture compares to its competitors?
- What skills and personal qualities do you think your company looks for when recruiting?
- Who do you think I should be meeting in your company/sector?
- What advice would you offer to someone coming into this business for the first time?
- What would you recommend I do to prepare for getting work in this sector?
- Do you think my past experience and skills fit into this company/ sector?
- What opportunities do you see in the future for this industry?
Give the other person time to think about their answers but try to keep the conversation going. Take notes; it shows that you value their answers and are taking the information they give you seriously.
Make sure, as the meeting draws to a close, that you ask if they can give you the names of a couple of other people you should be talking to. Could they introduce you? If not, could you mention the fact that they gave you their name? Always aim to leave a networking meeting with two new contacts to approach; it’s the best way to expand your network.
Don’t expect too much from the first meeting with a new contact. Networking doesn’t always produce immediate results, it’s a cumulative process; the more you engage with someone, the more you learn. Aim to build a warm relationship, one that will allow you to keep in contact with the person and to follow up from time-to-time.