Whether looking for a job or career change, networking is an important way to make sure your job search isn’t stuck relying on the same old job boards everyone else is using. By networking (and asking for help when the time is right) you give yourself an advantage no one else has – your very own personal contacts.
Added to the rest of your efforts, networking helps you create a unique job search package – based on a set of contacts you alone can build. And that can be a decisive advantage in a competitive job market.
The best way to start your networking
Networking doesn’t start when you’re ready to begin looking for a new job. You have probably been building networking contacts all along, but I hope from this moment forward, you pay extra attention to keeping them active and warm. They not only serve you well during your next career transition, but the best ones can last a career lifetime and beyond. People who build a strong networking relationship base have a much easier time finding new connections when they do start to look for that new job or career.
Why am I so sure of this? From my own experience. I did not have a linear career – by any means. In fact, I’ve had over 60 jobs so far, if you include all my consulting and temp work (between jobs). I’ve worked in a variety of industries and at a variety of levels. And because I did not have the ideal resume in an external recruiter’s eyes, I often needed help getting myself to an actual interview.
And that help almost always came from people in my network – both personal and career contacts. I had to have the ability to do the jobs, of course, but my contacts got me the chance to make my case in person. A big advantage. And these were people from all kinds of worlds, with whom I had built strong, 2-way (very important) relationships over the years. In fact, the best way to build a strong network, is to be there for others.
How do you ask for help from your network when you need it?
So now that I don’t need to go on about why you need a network, you’re probably wondering how to ask for help. It depends on the situation and person. Don’t you hate answers like that? But it’s true.
In my own experience, I had some folks I knew well whom I could just go to and say I’m looking for a new job – and ask if they know of any job openings or people I might talk to. It was important to have done my own homework first, and figured out what I basically wanted. Not only does it help them come up with good suggestions, it makes you seem less undirected or flaky!
But what about people you don’t know well, or the ones you meet for the first time? You want to help get them to invest in your goal of finding a job or new career. And you do this by helping them see your determination and the positive thought and effort you’ve already put into. But maybe not the first thing. If it makes sense (as when you meet someone at a networking event or even party), just talk. To want to help you, the person has to care about and actually like you.
So ask about them. Hopefully, you’ll find some common interests. If there is a good connection, you’ll get to tell your story and see if they know anyone who might help. Odds are they’ll dig much deeper for contacts if they like you. If they seem cool or uninterested, they probably won’t help anyway. And if you rush right into just talking about you and your desperate need (never seem desperate, btw), that can be a total turnoff. And you are less likely to build a lasting relationship … which is what you really want.
When it comes to networking, don’t think of it as a numbers game. Think of it as building relationships that last. Those are the ones that will pay off in the end. For both of you.
I’d love to hear your networking stories and tips. You can find networking contacts in the strangest places. Have you?
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