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Whether you are watching your preferred morning news and talk television show, searching the Internet, or talking with a career expert, if the topic is job search, the advice will be the same. You already know it. You have heard it many times. The best way to find a job, especially a more desirable one, is through networking. This gives you an uneasy feeling because you know your network is not very strong. Like most people, all you have been concerned about is the quality of your work and performing well for your employer; you were not thinking about building a network.

Networking Challenges

  1. Most people’s existing network is inadequate to significantly assist them in their job search. For most of us, our existing network is made up of people we have worked with in the past, people we attend church or other groups with, and people in our neighborhood. In most cases, it has not been strategically thought out and cultivated.
  2. There is likely a diminishing return on your network over time. When you start your career, almost everyone you know is at your level or above. As your career grows, fewer of the people you know are at a sufficient level of influence to assist you in getting into an organization. In fact, as you grow in compensation and responsibility, the number of opportunities at each successive level decreases. Moreover, you may have lost track of some of the people you have known through the years because they have either moved away or changed industries altogether.
  3. Networking events are often uncomfortable and time-consuming. Many feel “pressing the flesh” at professional association meetings and networking mixers seems inauthentic. If it is the 11th hour and you really need a job, the odds of meeting someone in such gatherings that will quickly lead to an opportunity are not great. This really should be part of a longer-term, overall strategy in which you are developing contacts for potential future mutual benefit. However, there is no time like the present to get started.
  4. Most networking attempts are too anemic and circuitous. Sending an email blast to people you know to tell them you are now looking for a job is not networking. Having lunch with an old co-worker or college classmate and letting them know you are “on the market” is not networking. Hoping you know someone who knows someone who knows of an opportunity is a long shot. Networking is about the new contacts you are developing that are in a place to really be of help.

Natalie’s Story*

Natalie was in the midst of the biggest career transition of her life. After consulting with her career coach on industries of interest, she read an industry article about recent trends and events. She identified two companies that she was particularly interested in exploring. With the assistance of her coach, she researched the companies and identified key decision-makers and contact information. Together, they crafted an email designed to initiate an informal dialog. Natalie then emailed the two decision-makers asking for a brief meeting to get their advice and insight. Within two days, both responded and agreed to meet with her.

The meeting with the first decision-maker resulted in positive feedback, industry insight, and referrals to other industry decision-makers. The meeting with the second decision-maker, Mr. Dennison, was extremely positive. By the time Natalie got home, he had emailed her three separate times indicating the steps he was taking to see if he could uncover an opportunity for her in his organization. She received a follow-up call the same day in which he revealed, “I want to hire you and if I can’t work that out, I will do what I can to help you find another opportunity in our industry.” Natalie received an offer from Mr. Dennison’s organization. It was one of three offers she got before making a decision.

Turbocharge Your Networking

Neither Natalie nor her coach knew Mr. Dennison previously. But she was able to cultivate an informal dialogue that allowed him to discover her.

Here are four questions to help focus your networking:

  1. What are the companies and/or industry spaces that interest me?
  2. Who are the influential people in those spaces? Depending on your professional level, you will probably be looking for someone at a director level or above. If you’re just starting your career you may be looking for someone at a managerial level. It will help if these are people who care about the kind of work that you do or the difference you can make in an organization.
  3. What is my personal brand and value proposition? Your personal brand is your message to the marketplace at-large concerning the kind of results you get. Your value proposition is more directly focused on how you can help an organization achieve its objectives within a specific context. Have a story to tell, with specifics about the kind of difference you have been able to make.
  4. What is going to be an effective approach to start an informal conversation? This is where most people tend to feel a little clueless. Too often, we betray ourselves by looking like a needy job seeker. Like Natalie, all you want is an informal dialogue and information. Rather than you pressing them for a job, let them discover you.

Tools and Tactics

  1.  Join LinkedIn groups that touch on your target industry spaces. Groups give you increased access to people who are not directly in your network but belong to the group.
  2. Follow companies of interest on LinkedIn. This may give you some insight into company activity and possible information on key employees.
  3. Consider a subscription to the local business journal. This is a great source of market information and can help you identify key decision-makers.
  4. Use Google Alerts to keep up with companies and industries. For example, you could set up an alert for “Biotech San Antonio” and receive new information daily via email.

Natalie’s existing network was not sufficient for her career transition objectives. However, she was able to successfully develop the new contacts she needed.

Think of this targeted contact development approach not just as an effective job search strategy in the short term, but also a means to cultivate a far more substantial network for your future.

 

*Names changed for privacy considerations.

 

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