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6 Steps to Network Your Way to a Job

Networking is one of the most underestimated job searching tools used by college graduates and professionals across the nation. In fact, many people still don’t know how to effectively network, and instead rely on more direct means of finding a job – like simply applying online.

Job boards are a great resource for anyone looking at a career change, but the jobs posted there are viewed by hundreds of thousands of people each week, many of whom are vying for the same positions. Because companies are typically looking for one person, you need to stand out from everyone else in order to get the job. The best way to do that is through networking. Statistics show that only 1% of job seekers are successful after sending their resume in for a posting they saw on a job board. Yet people still spend over 50% of their time searching for jobs and applying for postings, and less than 25% networking.

According to CNN, 80% of jobs are acquired through networking, making it the most effective way to find a job. Most people have heard professors or business professionals mention that it is an essential part of job searching and professional development. However, knowing what networking is and knowing how to network are two completely different things.

As school starts up again, college students and young professionals alike should keep these six tips in mind to master networking and enhance their professional lives.

  1. Start Early.  Networking takes time and patience. You don’t have to be an established business professional to start making valuable connections. For college students of any age, networking can lead to internships and, odds are, your internship will land you a job. According to an article by Forbes, data gathered by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 60% of college students working at a paid internship received at least one job offer from the company.  If you didn’t start early or haven’t started yet, don’t worry! All is not lost. Just remember that it takes time, effort, and persistence to effectively network and get a job.
  2. Don’t Ask For a Job. The person you are networking with likely knows that you are looking for a job, so asking them is unnecessary. If they have a job that matches what you are looking for or they know someone who does, they will tell you. Instead, take time to better understand what they do, what they like about their job, what they don’t, and how they launched into their specific field. Ask them for advice, if they have any suggestions for you, and if they know anyone else who would be willing to let you reach out to them for an informational interview. Even if you forget everything else, remember this one networking tip: Try to leave each networking meeting with at least two new people to contact so you can continue to grow your network.
  3. It’s Not All About You. Don’t go into a meeting or a networking event asking what other people can do for you. Discover what you can do for them. For many recent graduates, thinking this way can be difficult because you assume your limited experience means you don’t have much to offer a seasoned business professional. Even if you don’t have a wealth of experience, those you are networking with depend on you to represent them well to contacts and companies they introduce you to.  Show them that you are truly motivated to find a job and make the most of their help; remember they took time out of their busy day to meet with you. Also remember that one day, you may be in a position to help them out professionally.
  4. Create a Relationship. Networking is a conversation, not a 30-second mission to find out what someone else can do for you. The best networkers form personal relationships with those they meet and speak with. Know a bit about the person before you meet them so you can target specific interests of theirs in your conversation. You can do this by looking them up on LinkedIn. You can even ask them personal questions about what they do outside of work. Don’t spend the whole conversation talking about their job; take some time at the end to get to know them on a personal level rather than just a professional level. Once you create a relationship, be sure to maintain it (i.e., meet with them for coffee or lunch from time to time). You want them to remember you. That way, if they hear of a job they’ll think of you first.  If you find yourself searching for a job, even months later, don’t be afraid to touch base with your contacts every so often to let them know you’re still looking.
  5. Have a Goal for Each Meeting.  From the first day of school, students are taught to set goals, to keep looking ahead, and to strive towards something great. The same applies with networking. Set realistic goals for each networking event. Don’t make it your goal to get a job each meeting, because that’s simply not realistic.  Instead, you can make it your goal to get the names of a few new people to contact from each person you meet. If you can, get both their email and phone number; it always helps to have more than one piece of contact information. It’s as simple as asking them before you leave, “Do you know anyone else who would be willing to let me pick their brain, or who would be good for me to talk to?” Doing this will expand your network, and you’ll be surprised as to how many new names you are given.
  6. Come Prepared. Bring your resume, pen and paper to take notes, and a list of specific questions to ask. You should also research the person you’re meeting with [and I don’t mean stalk them]. Go on LinkedIn and find out where they went to school, what companies they’ve worked for, what they’ve done at those companies, and who they’re connected to on LinkedIn.  This allows you to find out more about the person you are meeting with.  Taking a look at their connections may not seem intuitive, but it will give you a starting point to ask if any of their connections would be worthwhile for you to meet. Find connections that stand out to you or that you believe would be helpful to talk to, and bring that list to the meeting.

If they’ve worked at a company that you’ve applied to or are interested in applying to, ask them if they have any contacts there or if they could help connect you with the right person. They will be impressed that you took the time to learn about them and do research; it shows that you’re not looking for them to do all the work.

Rather than discounting this as too nosy or forward, let me show you how well it has worked for me. When I was looking for a job, I came to a meeting with a list of about 15 people that I thought would be helpful to talk to and I ended up leaving with 23 people to contact, all from one person. The women I was meeting with actually took out her iPad and we went through her LinkedIn connections together, to find the best people for me to reach out to.  When I met with one of the contacts I gained from that initial meeting, she told me they had a position that they I might be a fit for – and the job hadn’t even been posted yet.

Doing your research before the meeting lets you spend your time actually networking and not just learning about the person for the first time. The biggest part of networking is being able to make a meaningful connection with the person and have a personal conversation, not solely focused on helping you find a job. If you send an email or leave a voicemail asking someone if they would be willing to have coffee, don’t be afraid to follow up with them if you don’t get a response back. Some persistence is good because it shows that you are invested in meeting and connecting with them. Be personable and always send those that take time out of their busy day to meet with you a hand written thank you card through the mail. Additionally, pay for their coffee – you’re inviting them to join you.

It may seem like a lot to jump into at first, but networking can make your job search not only more productive, but more fun. Use it as an opportunity to talk to interesting people and you may just find yourself in a job you love as a result.

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