Expanding Your Network

Miriam Salpeter

Once you’ve identified your network, the trick is to learn how to tap into it. If you’re thinking, “I know a lot of people, but how does that help me get a job?” you’re not alone. It’s challenging to transform your list of people you know into a vibrant, active professional network. How can you make that jump?

Learn to Introduce Yourself

Knowing where to find your network is an important first step in growing it. Ironically, one of the most crucial items to add to your “how to network” checklist is to focus on what is most interesting about you. How can you introduce yourself in a way that is most compelling and appealing to people you meet?

Think of Others First

You’d think introducing yourself would be an opportunity to be a bit self-centered.  It’s all about you, right? In fact, when you prepare a networking introduction, your goal should be to give compelling details about you that are most attractive and interesting to your new contact. To figure out what’s most interesting to your audience, you’ll need to know something about the person. If you haven’t had a chance to research his or her online bio and you’re caught off guard, try to take clues from the person’s name tag (it may list a job title or company name) and from what you’ve learned before being called upon to introduce yourself.

Ignore any advice regarding a “two-minute elevator pitch” because people aren’t interested in listening to you for two minutes! Instead, craft an interesting, targeted 35- or 40-word micro pitch that leaves people interested in learning more about you. Answer these questions in your pitch:

  • What do you do? How do you help? What makes you special and unique? (Keep in mind, adjust your pitch to explain how you can be helpful to the person you’re meeting.)
  • What is your goal/objective? What do you want to do?
  • What effect do you have? What results do you create?
  • How do you create positive results?
  • Why should the person care? (Target your pitch so it’s relevant to each person you meet.)

Use the following template. Note that the information doesn’t need to be in this exact order:

I work with (target audience) to (situation/solve what problem). This is how (results/impact).

Here are some sample pitches for me at Keppie Careers:

For a job seeker audience: As an author, speaker, and coach, I help job seekers land their dream opportunities by writing resumes and marketing materials and teaching them how to leverage the power of social networks. (31 words)

For a business owner audience: As an author, speaker, and coach, I empower business owners to attract clients and earn more money by teaching them how to leverage the power of social media marketing. (29 words)

What words should you include in your pitch? Spend time thinking about and writing it down. Practice saying it, and have a few versions, if appropriate. If someone woke you up in the middle of the night, could you give your pitch? You should know it that well.

How to Grow Your Network

Once you’re prepared to introduce yourself and you’ve decided what is special and unique about you, it will be a lot easier to network. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be well prepared to successfully network.

Don’t Tell Everyone You Are Looking for a Job

Yes, this advice is different from what you’ve heard in the past. People told you, “If you’re looking for a job, tell everyone you know. That’s the best way to get a position.” While it sounds good, in reality, when you introduce yourself with the equivalent of, “Hi, I’m ______. I’m looking for a job doing XYZ,” anyone who doesn’t know of a job in the XYZ field likely “turns off” and stops listening.

Consider this:

You’re at an event, and you notice someone with a friendly disposition, so you decide to introduce yourself. Upon exchanging the expected handshake, your pitch and pleasantries about the weather, you launch into your “jobseeker” speech:

“Since you work at (big accounting firm) and I’m looking for a job as an accountant, I’d love to arrange to meet sometime soon to talk to you about positions in your organization.”

Can you hear the proverbial doors closing already? This person just met you, and you’re already asking for help finding a job? Not to mention the fact that your new contact probably has no idea if there are open positions at the organization and is therefore mentally shutting down, which closes off opportunities for you to include this new contact in your network.

Don’t blame the new contact for shying away from the chance to get to know you better. If he or she doesn’t have a job in mind, avoiding future contact may simply be an exercise in trying not to disappoint you. If you set the expectation that a meeting might lead to a job, and the person doesn’t think he or she can deliver on that goal, it’s easy to understand why your requests for a follow-up meeting might be deflected.

Instead of telling everyone you’re a job seeker, make a point to get to know people you meet personally and be generous with your expertise. Do not ask for a job or an opportunity; have conversations that lead to follow-up meetings so you’ll have more chances to make good impressions that do lead to referrals.

Consider this alternate approach, once you exchange niceties, introductions, and polite conversation.

“I’ve heard such great things about (big accounting firm). What a coincidence that we’re both in accounting! I’d love to learn more about what you do. I’m always interested in meeting other people in the same field to exchange stories and ideas. Would you be up for meeting for coffee or a quick breakfast sometime in the near future?”

If the new contact is open to expanding his or her network, this approach is much more likely to meet with success—and a future meeting—than the, “I’m looking for a job, how can you help?” approach.

What if the contact still brushes you off, deferring, “I’m so busy…” Take the next step and ask for a referral. “I understand how busy you must be. Is there someone else in your department who might be available to speak with me?” Ask for another contact. The worst that can happen is the person says no. Then, you move on and try to meet someone interested in networking with you.

When you wear a metaphorical “J” for job seeker on your forehead, that’s not job search networking, it’s telling everyone you’re looking for a job. People will nod and smile at you, but it’s unlikely they will become active members of your network.

Be a Good Listener

When you try to extend your relationships and influence with people you meet, don’t forget to leverage one important skill: be a good listener. Many people today are self-absorbed and distracted. When was the last time you talked to someone who didn’t take a break to check their phone? It’s refreshing and a relief to meet someone who really listens. Instead of talking a lot when you meet someone new, ask questions, and pay attention to the answers. If you really want to impress new contacts, remember what they say and use it as a launching pad to follow up later.

You can even take notes after your conversation if you need help remembering details. For example, the person is an avid soccer fan. Perhaps you send along a link to an article when a soccer team plans to make your locale its home base. Or, if your contact mentioned she loves a particular artist, you can share a news story you see about his or her work. You’ll make a great impression and possibly win a new friend who may be willing to make an introduction for you when you demonstrate your listening skills.

Be Helpful

When you meet new people, identify ways you can help them. What ideas or suggestions do you have to help your new contacts? Your suggestions may be specific to your professional expertise, but they can also revolve around personal items. For example, if discussion centered around the new contact’s upcoming trip to Alaska, you may be able to offer tips and advice to help make the trip more meaningful. Or, maybe the person mentioned apple picking, and you always pick the best apples at a particular orchard. In any networking scenario, think first about what you can do for other people, and you’ll be more likely to attract generous networking contacts to you.

While professional networking happens in all places and during many types of events, it’s sometimes easier to get your network started in more traditional venues. Be sure to investigate local professional organizations. These groups are great places to meet new people. They are always looking for skilled volunteers, which is great if you are trying to demonstrate your talents for people with the authority and potential to refer you for opportunities. Be generous with your time and it will be a win-win. They’ll get help with their work and you’ll use your professional skills to impress more people who may be willing to help you in return.

Keep Track of Your Contacts

It’s easier to reconnect, be helpful, and keep in touch when you remember who you met, when, where, and what you learned about or from them. For example, if one contact refers you to another, you should always follow up with the referring contact to let them know if you meet the person recommended. This is especially true if the contract was very helpful to you. It’s always important to close the loop and say thank you.

If you connect with people on LinkedIn, you can access the notes within the network to remind yourself how you met and what you know about them. However, be aware, sometimes free features on LinkedIn become paid features, so do not rely on these alone. Perhaps you’d prefer to track your contacts in another application. Google “best ways to track networking contacts” for some options. There are many choices, depending on your operating system.

Alternatively, go old school and keep index cards or Excel spreadsheets with key data. Track when and where you met, who (if anyone) introduced you, and any specific follow up necessary. Write down details you learned when you spoke, including personal details (hobbies, interests, etc.) you can use to help you keep in touch.

Miriam Salpeter is owner and founder of Keppie Careers (http://www.keppiecareers.com/), a coaching and consulting firm helping job seekers and entrepreneurs leverage social media and other tools to achieve their goals. She has appeared on CNN, and  major media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes and others have quoted her advice. In addition to her own blog, Miriam writes for U.S. News & World Report and for AolJobs.com. She is the author of the books, Social Networking for Career SuccessSocial Networking for Business Success: How to Turn Your Interests into Income, and  100 Conversations for Career Success. Named to CNN’s list of “top 10 job tweeters you should be following” and a “top 5” influencer on Twitter for job seekers by Mashable.com. Miriam also had her blog selected as a top career resource by Forbes. A vice president for a Wall Street firm prior to earning a master’s degree from Columbia University, Miriam ran the Career Action Center at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University before launching her own business.