Tapping Your Network for Career Success

Miriam Salpeter

The success you have with networking depends on the time, effort, and resources you are willing to expend. For example, if you research attendees before an event, you’ll be better prepared to engage with them. When you allocate time to follow up with new networking contacts (even when they aren’t initially receptive), you’re more likely to benefit from networking. Consider the following tips to ensure your networking efforts yield the best results for job search and career advancement.

Talk to People You Don’t Think Can Help You

You read that right! Often, people overestimate how useful certain people may be in their network but underestimate other, potentially crucial contacts. Yes, it’s great to meet the CEO of a company where you want to work, but if he couldn’t care less about you and won’t return your calls, he’s not a valuable networking contact. On the other hand, you may know or have access to many untapped networking resources. Your hairdresser, bartender or barista, accountant, and auto mechanic likely know many people who can connect you with opportunities and resources to expand your network. Be open to the possibility that everyone you encounter is a potential link to your next opportunity. Consider what resources you offer these people in return, and networking will be a lot more palatable.

Keep Your Friends in the Loop

Most jobs are not posted publicly. Make sure you’ve informed your friends and acquaintances about your expertise, so they’ll think of you if they hear of good leads. How can you accomplish this goal widely, without walking around with the virtual “J” for jobseeker on your forehead?

Instead of thinking of yourself as a jobseeker, consider yourself an expert first, and present yourself that way. How? You might already demonstrate your expertise via LinkedIn by sharing newsworthy and relevant updates with your network. However, do you think about letting your “friend” network know what you’re doing professionally? Post content in Facebook detailing your professional endeavors and what you’re doing to expand your professional horizons. For example, “I’m excited organizers of _______ invited me to present my take on ________. I’m looking forward to sharing thoughts about ___________.” Or, “The class I’m taking to keep me up-to-date about __________ is terrific. Feel free to touch base if you’re interested in details about __________.”

These types of updates help your network of friends understand what you do without you asking for anything in return. You can also show off your professional knowledge by posting useful links and comments with news about your industry. For example, if you’re an accountant, you may post, “This was a comprehensive article about accounting practices every business owner should know: {link}.” Another great way to showcase expertise to your friends is to post links to articles that make it clear where your professional interests lie. For example, if you post a steady stream of links and information about insurance, your network will recognize your expertise in that area.

Similarly, when you go out socially, be sure to incorporate details about your professional experiences and endeavors into conversations with friends. Even though your friendship may not be based on shared work interests, these contacts may still know someone who knows someone, so be sure to clue them into your background. You’ll never know how helpful your immediate network of friends will be unless you let them know about the professional “you.” Don’t segment your “personal” networks from your “professional” networks.

Stay Abreast of Your Industry

It’s one thing to try to be a resource. It’s another thing to actually be one. If you stay on top of trends, news, and information related to your industry, you can share the information with your network via social media. Your colleagues who spend time in those networks will notice your useful and interesting stream of information. It’s natural for people to assume you’re in the know about your field when you provide useful information to your network. Set news alerts and follow credible industry sources so you will be among the first to know about important news. Read everything you can find from the leaders and up-and-comers in your space, and share the best of it via social media. Then, read, interpret, and analyze the information you access and share that too in understandable bytes of information.

Learn How You Can Help Others

In anything related to your job search, preparation will pay off. Networking is no different. When you interview for a job, you should know what the employer seeks and be able to describe why you’re a good fit. When you network, you must know what your networking contacts need and how you can help them solve their problems. Whether they are willing to admit it or not, networking contacts want to know what you can do for them. How can you add value? What do you bring to the table? When you clearly and directly indicate what you can do for a contact, you can earn a seat at the table, and you may find someone holding the chair for you.

Know What You Offer

Be prepared to demonstrate why you are an asset and be generous with your resources. Do you know of a new way to approach a problem? Do you have experience using a particular tool or software that would be an advantage? The difference between a successful networker and someone who goes around asking people for help is usually that the successful networker spent the time to figure out what he or she offers and how to parlay those skills and accomplishments into relationships. Focus on how you can help; you may be surprised by how many people will return the favor.

Build Relationships

Ultimately, the purpose of networking is to build relationships. Relationships don’t end once you decide a person doesn’t provide useful information. They also don’t end when you land a new job. Don’t confuse a good contact with a good relationship. A contact is someone you meet and who may or may not recognize your name when you touch base in the future. A relationship, on the other hand, requires maintenance and upkeep. Do your part to maintain relationships. Touch base regularly. E-mail links to information or news you think your contacts would appreciate. Congratulate them on personal accomplishments or when you read something positive about their company.

Articulate Your Needs

Once you know what you offer and you begin to build relationships with people in and outside of your field, succinctly and directly articulate your needs, too. Once you’ve laid the groundwork for a relationship and you meet someone who understands you and your value, don’t be shy about asking for a contact or information. If you sit back and wait for people to magically figure out that they know something or someone who may be able to help you, you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities. Think of others, but don’t forget to be your own best advocate. If you follow those rules, you’ll be in a great position to benefit from your professional network.

Be Persistent

Timing is everything. Once you’ve demonstrated your expertise and built relationships, if you ask for something and don’t get it, it doesn’t have to be the end of the discussion. Sometimes, a “no” or a demurred response is the same as a “not now,” instead of a “not ever.” Always maintain lines of communication, and never drop a relationship because you haven’t immediately gotten the answer you wanted. In the business world, things move and change quickly. A contact may not have good news or a contact for you today, but that may change tomorrow.

Diversify

While persistence is important, never put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket. Don’t focus on one or two networking contacts at the expense of growing your network in different directions. Use your best judgment and allocate your time appropriately. If you enjoy someone’s company and learn something from them, but it’s clear they have no intention of letting you access their network, you can maintain a casual friendship, but leave yourself time to network with other people. Don’t waste your time networking with people who are not willing to give back and be generous with their resources.

Make Informed Decisions

Don’t forget: hiring is a two-way process. Even as companies are evaluating you, if you want to ensure a good fit in a future job, it’s just as important for you to decide if you can envision yourself working for the organization. If you don’t tap into your network, you’ll miss information that may interest you. You could be stuck relying on companies’ own publicity and news to learn about them. On the other hand, if you can access an insider, that person can help you decide if you will enjoy working for the organization. You’ll be more likely to know what’s really happening there and be better able to identify any red flags, if there are any that might prevent you from wanting to work there.

Do What You Say You Will Do

Do you know someone who always makes a lot of promises, but never follows through? How about the friend who reserves time on your calendar and flakes out at the last minute? It can be irritating and inconvenient to deal with people who never (or rarely) do what they say they will do. One of the best ways to succeed at networking is to be the person who always follows through. Once people know they can count on you, whether it is personally or professionally, to do what you say you will do, you’ve earned their trust. People often don’t want to open up their networks to anyone they believe will disappoint them or their friends. Be the person everyone can count on and you will reap the benefits.

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.