Searching for a job can leave you frustrated and anxious, especially when it feels like you are exerting a ton of effort and getting nowhere. Most job seekers are familiar with the experience of submitting resumes to what seems like thousands of job postings only to hear nothing back. Even if you have honed your resume and cover letter to perfection, once you submit your application you can’t be sure that it will even make it to a hiring manager.
When applying through regular channels doesn’t yield results, it’s time to reach out to your network. Contacting a personal or professional connection is the best way to get your foot in the door at any company. Though the importance of a strong application can’t be overstated, a great resume isn’t enough if it never reaches the hiring manager’s desk. In this article we will discuss how you can make personal connections that will put you one step closer to landing your dream job.
If you aren’t already networking as part of your job search strategy, you may be surprised to learn that a personal connection is often the secret ingredient in landing your dream job. According to Glassdoor, surveys show that around 50% of people report having found their most recent job through friends, family, or someone else in their network.
Professional or personal connections can tell you about positions opening up that may not have been widely advertised. They may be able to connect you to other people in your industry or provide advice and support throughout your job search. They may have insider knowledge about companies in your field and know the best way for you to get noticed. A robust network is a great source of information about new job openings and opportunities.
Personal connections can also be advocates for your application. Many companies have mechanisms for current employees to recommend people for a role. This can be very casual, like a friend offering to hand your resume to a hiring manager, or it may be part of a formal process. Some companies even offer bonuses to employees who recommend a candidate they end up hiring. This isn’t just generosity; evidence has shown that employees who arrives through a personal referral tend to be more engaged and loyal.
While networking is vital to your job search, it is also intimidating. This is especially true if you are just beginning your career, returning to the world of work after a career break (like travelling or raising kids), or if you are naturally introverted.
If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of introducing networking to your job search strategy, you are in the right place. Our top ten tips will help you understand what networking is, how to define your existing network, how to build your network, and how to leverage your personal connections to find a job.
Many job seekers, especially those who are in the early stages of their career, don’t believe that they have a network, so the thought of building one from scratch seems daunting. Networking isn’t just an interminable cavalcade of conferences, events, and meetings with strangers, however. While networking does include attending in-person gatherings, that isn’t usually where it begins.
It begins with the people you have already met. Everyone has a network. The word “network” is simply a business term referring to the people you know.
To start networking, first map out the people you know. This might involve writing a list of your connections, assembling all of your connections in an actual map, or scanning your social media accounts to take note of the people you would like to reach out to.
As you build your map, it can be helpful to collect the following information:
Once you have mapped your current network, you can begin to build a networking plan.
Networking with people you know is be easier than trying to win over strangers. There is comfort and familiarity in your existing network—these are the people who care about you and want to help. Once you have made the map we mentioned in the first tip, you will know who you want to reach out to first and who you want to avoid for the time being.
To engage with your current network, it helps to have a plan. Ask yourself the following questions:
As you reach out, let each person know what you are looking for. Always be polite, respectful of their time, and offer to return the favour if you can. Make a careful note of any leads they send your way, follow up on the information they give you, and let them know how things go.
You might assume that the people who are most likely to help in your job search are those closest to you, but research indicates that “weak ties” can actually be more useful. Why? The theory says that people with whom you have weak ties are more likely to have connections outside of your existing network, and therefore have access to people or information about jobs that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to find.
This is why it pays to talk openly about your job search. Chat with the person you see every week at yoga, or reach out to the friend of a friend you have met at parties. You may be surprised at the connections they can offer.
One concern people often have when networking is that they may seem dishonest. They don’t want to feel like they are taking advantage of their personal relationships in order to get a job. They are worried about bothering people, taking up too much of their time, or otherwise aggravating their contacts.
But when it is done right, networking is building and strengthening your relationships with people. It doesn’t have to be sleazy or aggressive, and it definitely isn’t about taking advantage of people.
Whether you are having an offhand conversation at the gym, an informational interview, or attending a networking event, follow these principles when talking to people:
Contacting someone once doesn’t mean that you have successfully “networked” with them, or that you can now move on to the next person on your list. Relationships take time to build. You shouldn’t be contacting someone every day (unless you want to get blocked!), but you also can’t assume that someone will remember you based on one 15-minute interaction.
There are many ways to build relationships over time. For example, if you meet someone and don’t have their contact details, ask them for their card or ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn. Follow up within 24 hours to thank them for the interesting conversation (and let them know if you’ve implemented any of their advice). Send them a note to check in every once in a while, or to offer information that they might find useful. Take them out for coffee. If you get hired, reach out and let them know about the new role and tell them how their advice helped you land the job. Treat networking as a long-term strategy (see tip 10).
As you have conversations about your job hunt, people will naturally ask you questions. They will be interested in learning what you have done in the past, what skills you have, and what kind of work you are looking for now. They will try to gather enough information to decide if they are able and willing to help you.
It is critical to speak confidently about your experience, skills, and accomplishments. If you waffle or sound uncertain, you are unlikely to convince anyone to put their own reputation on the line by recommending you.
You also need to be able to answer the following question: “What kind of role are you looking for?” The correct response is never “Anything!” Not only does that sound desperate, but it also doesn’t give your conversation partner any useful information. “Anything” is far too broad, and nobody has the time to send you every job that comes to their attention.
If feel uncertain about how to talk about your skills and experience, one place to start is by creating a “skills inventory”, a list of all the skills you have to offer a new employer. CareerLinkBC has a detailed guide on how to create a skills inventory and how to use it as part of your networking strategy.
Another popular tactic is the elevator pitch, a short intro with your ‘who’ and ‘what’ that you can use when meeting people. You can hone your pitch at home, practice it, and then introduce yourself confidently when you find yourself in a networking situation. Check out this guide from The Balance Careers on creating a winning elevator pitch.
“Oh, you want to be a web designer?” says a friend from your old university program. “Let me put you in touch with my friend Diane. She’s a manager at a design firm.” When engaging your network, you might get offers to connect with people in your field.
This can lead to an ‘informational interview’ or a ‘coffee chat’. Your friend will likely give you a warm introduction to Diane, and then you will be free to schedule a time to chat, either in person or over the phone.
Note: This is rarely a chat about a current job opening, and you should avoid asking for a job in your informational interview. Typically, in an informational interview you will ask the other person questions about their career path, the company they work for, and any advice they may have for you as someone currently looking for a job in their field. You may also ask if they can refer you to any other people to meet with.
Why would you spend your time conversing with strangers when there’s no job on the table? Because it can put you in a good position when a role does open up. Informational interviews allow you to expand your connections within your field and get in front of influential hiring managers. If Diane suddenly has an opening, she may forward you the job posting and recognize your name when you apply. If one of Diane’s contacts asks her if she knows someone who would be a good fit for their role, she can now offer your name. Stay at the top of people’s minds and you could be the first to know when your dream job opens up.
The Muse has some great tips on how to master the informational interview here.
We should note that informational interviews aren’t only made through personal connections like the situation we have outlined above. Sometimes you may want to cold contact people at companies you want to work at, or in positions you would like to fill. Take a look at this guide on how to request an informational interview.
There may come a time when you have exhausted all the available leads in your current network, and you still haven’t found a new job. This means it’s time to expand your network, with a particular focus on building new relationships with professional contacts in your field.
While the specific options will depend on your location and industry, you could try one or more of the following tactics:
Formal networking events are what many people think of when they hear the word “networking”. These events are often mixers combined with a talk or discussion, and they are specifically designed to get you chatting with new people.
As we have already noted, networking doesn’t have to mean attending this kind of event—but they can be a great resource for expanding your base of professional contacts and building new personal connections with people in your field.
If the thought of attending a professional networking event fills you with dread, you are not alone. But even the most introverted person can turn events like this into a successful part of their job strategy by employing the tips we have discussed in this article. Bring a friend or colleague if it will help you break the ice. Plan ahead, be prepared to speak about yourself and what you are looking for, listen carefully, and focus on building genuine relationships with people. You don’t have to stay for the entire event or speak to every person in the room. A handful of meaningful conversations that you can follow up on is preferable to whizzing through the attendee list and making an impression on no one.
Everyone attending the event is looking to make new connections. Remembering this can help you approach others with a positive attitude.
Whether you are sending an email to a former colleague, going for an informational interview, or attending a formal networking event, take the time to gather as much information as possible. For immediate contacts, try to find out as much as you can about their current role, their current company, and previous roles they have held (if they are on LinkedIn this can be a valuable resource). This will help you develop questions for them, especially if they have worked for an organization that interests you.
For networking events, try to get a sense of who might be attending and who you would like to speak to. You can often find a preview of attendees on Meetup.com and on Facebook event pages. Some networking events, like job fairs, include company representatives; if that’s the case, make a list of the organizations you would like to connect with. Pay attention to the details listed in the event invitation, such as speakers or companies who will be present, expectations for the dress code, and if you should bring your CV.
If you are uncertain about what to expect from a networking event, you can usually reach out to the event coordinator for more information.
Once you have landed that dream role, don’t forget about the network you have so carefully cultivated. After all, long gone are the days of the ‘job-for-life’, and you never know when you will be looking for your next opportunity. As you continue your career, continue the practice of building professional relationships, and look for opportunities where you can return the favour to people who have helped you in the past.
Ben is a writer and customer support specialist with 5 years of experience helping job-seekers create their careers. He believes in the importance of a great resume and the power of coffee.
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