Networking is the process of meeting and talking with people in your field and others who might be able to help you find a new job opportunity or otherwise advance your career. In today's technologically oriented and sometimes socially distanced world, networking can be done in person or using a variety of technologies online, including email, text, social media, and other messaging tools.
Some common networking sources include industry events and conferences, local business groups, and online groups, but networking can also happen through random meetings in the community or interactions online. Almost any interaction could be a networking opportunity, and those who are networking experts can do this effortlessly, or at least it seems.
Why Networking is Essential for Jobseekers
Networking is essential because it improves your job prospects in at least two critical ways. First, it helps you have a proper understanding of the opportunities that are out there in your field and what your options as a job seeker truly are. Unless you put yourself out there and start talking to a good number of people in your field, you will miss out on companies that may be hiring quietly and even how positions in your industry may be evolving.
You can Google job listings and read about the latest trends in your industry all you want, but nothing beats putting your ear to the ground by talking to actual people working in actual jobs in that sector.
Second, many employers are more likely to hire someone recommended to them by a trusted colleague or contact than someone they don't know from Adam. When someone tells you about a job in their company or in another company with which they have a connection, they are very likely to put in a good word for you or at least drop your name to the hiring manager, which gives you a leg up on other candidates, all other things being equal.
7 Common Networking Mistakes by Jobseekers
As important as it is to network when you are looking for a job, not everyone does it in the best possible way. Here are some common networking mistakes to avoid while searching for your next job.
1. Old or Incomplete Profiles Online
Chances are, when you meet people either in person or online who could be resources for your job search, they will look up your LinkedIn profile or other social media profiles on sites relevant to your industry. If these new contacts find your profile incomplete or out-of-date, they may be less likely to recommend you for positions they know about. It's worth taking the time at the beginning of the process and periodically afterward to update your social media profiles so that the most relevant information is front and center.
2. Not Dressing Professionally
If you don't look professional for an in-person, planned meetup, it could leave questions in people's minds about whether you will be professional on the job. If you happen to meet up with the person who would do the actual hiring, that meeting could be an informal first interview, and you should dress the part. When doing more informal networking, such as talking to someone you meet in the grocery store, you will not likely be dressed professionally, but you could still make sure you don't show up in pajama pants or a baseball cap.
3. Neglecting In-Person Networking
Networking and communications technology expert David Strom noted recently that job seekers are gravitating toward all-online meetups and neglecting in-person meetings that can be even more valuable. "There is no substitute for getting out there and introducing yourself to people who might know someone who is hiring," Strom said. He recommends at least two to three in-person meetups per month and to "talk to strangers" even if it's uncomfortable at first.
4. Expecting Immediate Results
Networking can be immediate or yield results in days or weeks. But often, it takes time to develop relationships, find common ground, and get comfortable enough to ask someone you barely know for the favor of introducing or recommending you to someone that could hire you. It's important to give as much as you get if you want people to be willing to go to bat for you. Show them that you're a valuable contact by offering to help them in some way before you ask them to help you.
5. Not Asking for Help
While some networkers are overly aggressive and expect virtual strangers to hype them to their managers, others fail because they are too reluctant to ask for help. It is important to be upfront about your status as a job seeker, and when you see a good opportunity, to ask people to mention your name or recommend you to someone involved in the hiring process.
6. Being too Vague
It's tempting to cast a wide net when networking, including every single kind of job you could possibly do in case the contact could help in any of those areas. But listing a bunch of different fields or industries as possible jobs you could do will only confuse the contact and may make it harder for them to figure out how to best help you. Instead, narrow your pitch down to one field and be specific about what you are looking for.
7. Failing to Follow Up
If your networking efforts yield a possible opportunity, you need to follow up with the person if you hope to actually get an interview or be considered for the job. You can't expect someone doing you a favor to track you down and follow up on the opportunity, so it's going to be up to you to do so. Some hiring managers will even wait for the follow-up to see if the potential candidate will take the initiative, which could be important for the job.
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