Networking is one of the main approaches through which job seekers identify and/or secure a job opportunity. However, networking, just like many other skills, requires practicing and strategizing. This post discusses the importance of networking during the job search (and in general) and how to make your next networking session successful and productive.
Why do we network?
When I first entered graduate school, I used to believe that one’s career and professional development were solely dependent on their personal academic abilities such as how good you are at your lab or school work. However, it is important to recognize that our professional success can be attributed to the networking and relationships that we have built with others over time. More importantly, networking is not always about asking for a job. Networking can allow us to explore unfamiliar careers, gain insiders’ opinions about whether a career is the right fit for us, make ourselves noticeable in a job market, gather information about a company that we are interested in and their hiring process. Ultimately, these long-term professional and personal relationships established through networking can possibly lead to partnerships, collaborations, professional/personal growth, career opportunities or job referrals.
1. Where do you find people to network with?
Firstly, we lay the groundwork before the action of networking begins and determine who to network with. Although it is common to think of networking as reaching out to new people, networks also consist of people that we already know such as friends, colleagues, families and their contacts. Within your existing network, you can start by listing individuals and organizations whose work is of interest to you and with whom you would like to build connections with. Beyond your already established networks, there are many resources, both online and in-person, that you can use to find people who work in your areas of interest. LinkedIn is one of the most useful tools to identify individuals, organizations, and positions. Several in-person networking platforms include alumni events, career fairs, volunteer work, internships, student organizations, and etc.
2. Prepare yourself before networking sessions
Getting prepared for a networking event is just as important as networking itself. In general, you would want to prepare for two types of conversations: one conversation to talk about yourself and the other conversation to ask informed and specific questions about others. Introducing yourself should include the following components: your name/major/year in school, your career objective/direction, a brief description of your career development so far, and what you would like to achieve from this networking from the perspective of career exploration, personal growth, network building, etc. Example questions that you can ask during a networking conversation include: How did you choose this career? What skills, qualifications and abilities are important to being successful at this job? What are some common challenges that people have to overcome when they first start this position? What next steps would you recommend for my career search and preparation? Can you tell me more about the workplace culture of your company?
Next, you would want to confirm all the logistics. If you are having a virtual meeting online or on the phone, make sure that you are aware of any time-zone differences. It is also important to find a quiet and private location with good internet connection. If you are having an in-person meeting, plan your mode of transportation ahead of time and try to arrive 10-15 mins early to get yourself ready and set a good impression.
3. During networking
Although a primary goal of networking is to secure job opportunities, it is critical to focus on relationship building and avoid being outcome-driven during networking. The number one key to effectively building a relationship is being attentive during conversations and practicing active listening. Another important aspect of networking that doesn’t get mentioned enough is communicating a positive attitude. Even when you are discussing a challenging situation from your past, showcasing a good attitude and focusing on the positives will help you make a good impression. Lastly, keep other people’s interest in mind as you navigate the networking arena. Offering your help in return, whatever it may be, is another great way of showing appreciation/gratitude and maintaining a long-term relationship. How you help others doesn’t have to be complicated or impressive–sometimes you might just know the one person that has the right information for them.
4. Manage the relationship
All long-lasting professional relationships require maintenance, which can vary from keeping a spreadsheet of your contacts to routine follow-ups. A simple spreadsheet can serve as a quick reminder of your last connection with someone and why you connected with them in the first place. Other information that can also be managed in the spreadsheet include your contacts’ current positions and companies, their contact information, dates when you first met with them, notes/takeaways from your conversations with them, the last time you were in touch and follow-up steps that you have taken.
Follow-ups are one of the best ways to leave your contacts with a strong impression of you and to keep in touch with them.
If you have met someone at a public networking event, make sure to send them a thank-you email afterwards to show your gratitude and enhance the relationship further by personalizing the email to refer to specific topics from your interactions.
If you have had a private one-on-one meeting with someone, with whom you have established a more personal relationship, you can choose to send them a thank-you email or a text/LinkedIn message (if this was how communication was mainly carried out in the past) with similar content.
If there are topics or questions that you didn’t have a chance to address during the previous conversation, it is always a good idea to try to set up another meeting and mention several topics that you would like to cover during the next meeting.
If you follow your contacts on LinkedIn, which is strongly recommended, you will have access to their posts and professional milestones. Simply liking a post or a work anniversary of theirs or even leaving a comment will not only remind them of your interactions but also strengthen your relationships over time.
If something that you discussed with your contacts comes up in the news, an article/publication you’ve read or a project you are working on, do not hesitate to reach out again and tell them about it.
Similarly, you can also use transitions or major events in the year, such as holidays, as excuses to reach out, wish them well and update them about yourself.
Just like any other techniques that you’ve learned during graduate school, networking is a skill that requires constant practicing to improve. Follow the steps and suggestions discussed in this post and get ready for your next networking event.