What’s the most effective but under-utilized skill in job hunting?
Yes, having a well organized, crisp resume / CV is a good starting point in any job search.
But in this article, we will focus on learning how to network, why it is important for your career, and 7 easy networking tips to kickstart this habit. These work even when you’re a beginner like a college student, and/or an introvert.
The good news is, networking is a skill that anyone can learn, it just requires practice. And since networks take time to build, it’s best to start now as you never know when you need it.
Let’s dive in!
Why do I need to network?
- People tend to do business with people they know and like. Resumes and cover letters alone are often too impersonal to convince employers to hire you. The job application process just isn’t as fair as we’d like it to be.
- You stand out. Having a killer CV helps you stand out, but so does knowing people in the company. Job listings tend to draw piles of applicants, which puts you in intense competition with many others. Networking makes you a recommended member of a much smaller pool.
- The job you want may not be advertised at all. Networking leads to information and job leads, often before a formal job description is created or a job announced.
Network? But I don’t know anyone!
You may think you don’t know anyone who can help you in your job search.
Before you think that:
- Systematically go through everyone you know and evaluate them, and
- Take who they know into account, i.e. friends of friends.
You may have heard of the six degrees of separation: the idea that everyone is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world.
In finding your ideal job, we believe that you should be able to find a useful contact within 1 or 2 degrees: friends of friends, or at most, friends of friends of friends.
Just tapping into 2 degrees, you could be reaching Richard Branson, Larry Page, Amartya Sen – never mind someone from a company you’re targeting.
So tap that network. Tap it like a maple tree.
Ask people I know for help? That’s embarrassing / against my values.
Then you need some tough love.
As mentioned earlier, the job market is not a fair battleground. You need and will use every advantage you can.
The ability to network effectively is a genuine career and business skill, and if you fight against learning and utilizing it, you will fall behind.
If you’re embarrassed that you’re asking for job-related favors from people you know, try keeping these points in mind:
- It’s all about self-confidence. Confidently asking for help, and finding a job you like, is 100x better than proudly keeping your silence and scoring zero.
- It feels good to help others. Most people will gladly assist you if they can.
- Ask for advice. People love to be recognized as an expert, or a person in the know. They also love to give advice, so ask for it.
- We’ve all been there before. Almost everyone knows what it’s like to be out of work or looking for a job. It’s not that big a deal.
- Job hunting can be isolating and stressful. By connecting with others, you’re sure to get some much needed encouragement, fellowship, and moral support.
- Reconnecting with your network should be fun – even if you have an agenda. The more this feels like a chore the more tedious and anxiety-ridden the process will be.
7 essential networking tips, even for introverts
Start early and small
Start with a list of 20 people you’d like to connect with, start building those relationships today. Doing it only when you need it is too late, simply because good relationships (just like friends) take time to find and build!
Who should be in this list?
It could be people in your target industry of choice, peers, ex-colleagues, headhunters, etc. Typically in that order of importance.
Spend some time researching the specific person you want to meet, and check whether you have friends that know them already and would introduce you directly. I personally would focus on this more than the usual ‘networking events’.
Start small, aim to connect professionally twice a week. Feel free to increase as you see fit, but it’s all about making it a habit so it comes naturally to you.
Prioritize “super networkers”. Meet them first. And learn to be one.
Who are the super networkers?
You can spot them quite easily: they’re friendly, they know a ton of people (check out their Facebook or LinkedIn contacts) and are quite busy generally. Oh, don’t forget to spruce up your CV and LinkedIn profile too.
Send a nice and brief email, or make a quick call. Ask them for help & advice over coffee. Take a genuine interest in them too, you’re building a relationship (and friendship) after all. It is not a transaction. People will always prioritize helping people that they like.
How do you be like them? Easy.
Take an interest in others, ask questions, and more importantly listen and remember. Once in a while, think of two people who should know each other but don’t, and introduce them. Follow up with them later to learn whether that introduction was worthwhile, so you can get better at making introductions.
Keep on practising, and watch your network grow.
Make the person like you – a.k.a. good communication skills
The phrase ‘good communication skills’ is misplaced and confusing.
It’s much better to think in simpler terms – you need to make the person you’re networking with like you.
That means don’t talk over or ignore the person, be attentive, be interesting. If you become friends, they’ll want to help you.
Ask for advice and help, not a job.
That said, asking for a job as soon as you meet someone can immediately set you off on the wrong foot. It just doesn’t work that way.
Make it clear that you’re asking for advice on how to apply, more information on roles, and always be appreciative with whatever help you’re given.
Be clear about your objectives. But remember it’s a give and take.
Try not be transactional about networking. Do not offer something because you want something in return. Instead, show a genuine interest in something you and the other person have in common.
When it comes to asking for a favour – BE SPECIFIC:
- ‘Let me know if you hear of anything’ is rubbish.
- When you’re interested in a role and someone can help you, always be crystal clear in exactly how this person can help you.
- Explain your (career) objectives clearly and whether he or she would make an introduction to person X, provide you a reference, give you an interview, send your CV directly to person X, advice on making the career switch etc.
You’re always networking.
Networking is not something you ‘switch on and off’.
In fact, ‘networking’ is simply a fancier term for ‘being friendlier to people and making and effort at staying in touch’.
That’s simply what it is, and it also means that it’s a lifestyle rather than a concentrated effort when you need a job.
Follow up. Keep in touch. Maintain your network.
Good relationships take time, but not as long as you think if you work on it but let it develop as its natural pace. It’s kinda like dating really. Rushing makes things awkward and weird.
Because relationships are progressions, follow-ups are important. If you’ve bad memory, make notes about the person and summarize the meeting outcome in a spreadsheet to remind you.
It’s OK to email, but bear in mind that their inbox are probably swamped. Follow up by email again after a week even if you have not heard back.
It’s OK if that person doesn’t respond, every bit helps to remind him/her of you, and sometimes they just don’t have time to respond, but it doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten about you, especially if you’ve been writing to offer a connection or relevant information to that person, i.e. looking out for them.
Humans have a tendency to want to reciprocate, so the more you show you’re looking out for someone, the more likely that person will begin to keep you in mind as well.
Maintaining your network may not be as hard as it sounds. In this day of LinkedIn, Facebook and email, it’s easy to continue to stay in touch, and reach out to people. Say hello, send an interesting article, ask about their family. It’s the little things that matter.
Review your efforts after 1 month and meeting 20 new people. You’ll be surprised how many more new opportunities you’ve discovered through this.
Do you have further tips to add on how to network better? Up for taking the 1 month networking challenge? Comment below or share your progress with us in the Forum!
Meanwhile here are some related articles that may be of interest:
- How to Write a Good Resume: 11 Actionable Tips
- 5 Areas You Need To Focus on To Write A Killer Resume
- Are Professional Resume Writing Services Worth It? Here’s Our Verdict
- How to Prepare for An Interview: 3 Steps to Secure Your Job Offer
- How to Properly Display CFA on Resume, LinkedIN and Business Cards