Networking as a concept is a little vague. Get jobs from going to the right parties? It’s a little more complicated than that. People who are good at networking know how to not only make connections but parlay them into professional advancement.
It’s an art form but with the right strategy, you can use it to get job offers and advance professionally. In this article, we take a look at best practices for networking.
What Networking Isn’t
“I like your chops. I can tell from the way you make small talk and order a cocktail that you are the real deal. What would it take to get you to run my company? Surely not less than a million dollars.”
A little over the top, yeah, but that’s the general idea many people have in their heads when they think of networking. You make the right friend, and they set you up with a killer opportunity.
Has that happened before? Maybe. Probably. But most of the time it’s not really like that.
Networking is really about orbiting in professional circles that keep you well-informed about industry trends and opportunities. No reasonable business person will hire you because they enjoyed your company at a party.
They might give you some valuable information. “Hey, next month we are going to open up a job listing. You should apply.”
Or, you might pick up great references by having a familiar relationship with community leaders and your college professors. Don’t think of networking as your ticket to a new career, but rather one of many tools you use to make yourself stand out for competitive positions.
Build a Personal Brand
Your brand is basically your professional persona. Not different precisely from the everyday you, but tailored, cultivated, and distilled into something that fits neatly into the professional landscape. Ideally, your personal brand will be something that reflects both your personal values, and your general philosophy toward work.
Maybe you’re the salesperson that cares about sustainability, or the marketer that wants to give fair trades and not-for-profits a boost.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a social cause. It should, however, be clearly stated.
Once you land on a personal brand, make sure you live it visibility and consistently. If you choose something that is authentic to you, this will mostly just be a matter of being yourself.
Have a Good Online Presence
Online spaces are a natural and effective way to connect with professionals in your area. Being visible on social media makes it very easy for interested hiring parties to find you and learn more about your values.
A web presence also just keeps you in the minds of people within your network. You can develop a professional air of competence and expertise with well-targeted posts, all while strengthening your personal standing with people you hope to one day work with.
Just remember that social media is a double-edged sword. Using it well can get you far but mistakes are costly. Checking social media feeds is one of the first things HR people do as they vet a new hire these days. If you’ve said anything dicey or posted content that could compromise your professional standing in the community, these things alone will be enough to void the potential hire.
Goals make things concrete. Networking is a vague enough concept as it is because so much of what happens exists in that “soft” unquantifiable space. Good conversations. Promising relationships. So on and so forth.
You can make the process more tangible by setting clear objectives for yourself. At your job fair, set out to talk with blank, blank, and blank. Monitory our follow-ups. Understand what you are hoping to achieve, and make sure you are moving toward those objectives with every decision you make.
This might sound like strange advise to the newly minted professional who is trying to break into their chosen vocation. Can you really be choosy when you aren’t employed?
Don’t turn down job offers left and right. Do make a point of seeking opportunities you will actually enjoy and grow from. A lot of people rush to get the first job that becomes available to them.
And why not? Your student loan payments will start being due soon. You’re out on your own. No savings. Who has time to dawdle?
Here’s the rub. Once you get a job, it’s a lot harder to find a new one. Life happens. You get set in your ways. Busy with work. Busy with your personal life. You just don’t have time to look for a better opportunity.
Right now, you do. Seek only connections that you think will take you places you want to go. If you’re a few months in and things aren’t really panning out, you might want to cast a wider net, but until then, look for opportunities that excite you.
Learn How to Sell Yourself
To really sell yourself you need to put together a solid pitch. Two or three sentences that tell people who you are and why you are an asset to their business. Think of this as an extension of your resume. You have a cover letter, right? It talks about who you are and what you are about.
This pitch should distill the best qualities of that cover letter. Sum everything up and wrap it tightly in a bow for your next professional connection.
Once you’ve made a high-quality list of connections, be sure to touch back on them from time to time. A week or so after meeting someone at a professional event, consider dropping them an email. Depending on how your interaction went, it may even be appropriate to send over your resume.
Even if they aren’t filling a position at that moment, they will probably be happy to keep your information on file.
There are good ways to do this and bad ways. One message, polite, brief, and professional is appropriate. Multiple follow-ups aren’t. If they want you, they know where to find you.
About the Author
Ryan Ayers is a researcher and consultant within multiple industries including information technology, blockchain and business development. Always up for a challenge, Ayers enjoys working with startups as well as Fortune 500 companies. When not at work, Ayers loves reading science fiction novels and watching the LA Clippers.