Standing out in a sea of resumes can seem nearly impossible. So what can job seekers do to set themselves apart and land the job of their dreams? Make connections. A candidate with an in-house recommendation has a significant advantage in getting noticed. According to SilkRoad’s 2017 Sources of Hire Report, employee referrals are the top source for hiring, with more than 30 percent of hires resulting from an in-house referral.
Clearly, insider contacts are advantages for job seekers, so the deeper and more meaningful your network is, the better. But with limitless modes of communication, networking options can seem overwhelming. Below are some tips for effective networking to steer your career in the optimal direction.
1. Start with Who You Know
Whether or not it feels like it, you’ve been networking your entire life, from play dates in Kindergarten to after-class chats with college professors. Now it’s time to leverage those connections. If you’re seeking a career in a specific field, talk to your friends. Ask if they know anyone in that field who would speak with you. Email your prior professors, tell them your career goals, and inquire if they have any advice. If you played a sport in college, check in with your coach—coaches’ networks are often vast, as alumni enjoy keeping in touch with their athletic mentors. And don’t forget about the people closest to you—parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins are just as good connections as anyone else. It may feel strange asking mom and dad to help you find a job, but remember, it’s just an opportunity—you are the one who will have to truly earn it.
Sometimes, casual conversations with people you know lead to great things, which is reason enough to prioritize your friendships and relationships.
2. Find Common Ties
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have strong connections through their families or their past. And even those who do may not have connections in their specific fields. But you can leverage your own life experiences and accomplishments. Use common bonds—such as school, activities, athletics, or prior employer—to find new networks of people. For example, if you are interested in working for a particular company, hop on LinkedIn or call your prior career services office and see if anyone from your alma mater works there. You can then message that person directly, introduce yourself as a fellow alumnus, and ask if they’d be willing to speak about their experience at the company.
3. Check Your Entitlement
Remember, networking is about making connections, not begging someone else for a job. Your goal is to get to know people. Through these connections, you can gain insights into industries and employers, and if you foster the connection enough, perhaps that person will become a reference for you. But you shouldn’t expect a connection to pull strings just because you both played lacrosse for the same high school or graduated from the same MBA program. The more you build your network with genuine connections, however, the greater pool of resources you’ll have to learn more about opportunities available. And if you work to turn the connections into true relationships, you may be surprised how much people are willing to help with your job application.
4. Get Social
For those who are best behind a computer screen, networking opportunities abound on social media. LinkedIn is an obvious tool that allows you to build a virtual network. But don’t merely connect with people you know and move on—explore how you can grow your network with the site. For example, search for useful contacts and see if they are connected to any of your current contacts—asking people you know to introduce you to their contacts is a great way to bolster your network, and you don’t even have to leave your keyboard. From there, foster that new connection outside of the LinkedIn world through an informational interview, coffee chat, or phone conversation.
Don’t limit yourself to LinkedIn. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are all useful tools for building your own professional brand and for finding new connections. You can search all of the sites for people who may be useful resources in your industry. And you can also connect with the people you know through those sites to see if they have any useful connections or advice.
5. Be Active in the Industry
Sometimes making connections is as easy as a friend making an introduction. Other times, it takes a lot of work and thinking outside the box. One way to put yourself out there is to become active in your chosen industry. For example, if you are interested in a publishing career, seek out book conventions and attend. If you’re on the hunt for a legal job, go to some local bar events and mingle with the attorneys. Consider taking your participation a step further by volunteering at these industry events. Take tickets at the door, help with setup, hand out programs, or assist whatever other task the event coordinator may need. By volunteering, you will get to know those who are running the event and also will interact with attendees. If you continue to be involved in events, you will see the same people and forge connections.
6. Foster Relationships
Making connections is not true networking—developing those contacts into real relationships yields a useful network. To create relationships, you must be genuine in your interactions and show true interest in learning about the other person’s career, hearing their advice, and getting to know them. Check in with contacts every so often with a quick email or phone call. And don’t forget to thank those in your network when they do something to help you, even if it doesn’t lead to the opportunity you want.
7. Push Yourself
Networking doesn’t come easy to everyone, and even social butterflies may be unsure how to approach others about career advice. The important thing to remember is that new connections are just people, and they were all in your shoes once. Remind yourself how valuable strong relationships can be both in exploring your career field and in the job hunt, and force yourself out of your comfort zone.
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