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Guide to Networking

Many people use job boards as their sole job search technique. Unfortunately, statistics show that only 20% of jobs are ever posted—which means that 80% of jobs remain hidden in the job market. For this reason, networking remains the number one job search strategy.

In this Guide:

Networking Defined

A network is a group of supporters who serve as resources for your job search. Some great contacts might include peo- ple you meet at business and social meetings who provide you with career information and advice. Students often hesitate to network because they feel awkward asking for help, but it should be an integral part of any job search. Though you might feel nervous when approaching a potential con- tact, networking is a skill that develops with practice, so don’t give up. Most people love to talk about themselves and their jobs and are willing to give advice.

Eight Keys to Networking

  1. Be Prepared: First, define what information you need and what you are trying to accomplish. Your purpose is to get to know people who can provide information regarding careers and leads. Benefits of networking include increased visibility within your field, propelling your professional development, finding mentors, increasing your chances of promotion, and perhaps finding your next job. Second, know yourself—your education, experience, and skills. Practice a concise, one-minute presentation of yourself so that people will know the areas in which you are interested. Your networking meeting should include the following: introduction, self-overview, Q&A, obtaining referrals, and closing.
  2. Be Targeted: Identify your network. For some, “Idon’t have a network. I don’t know anyone,” may be your first reaction. Start by listing everyone you know who are potential prospects: family members, friends, faculty, neighbors, classmates, alumni, bosses, co-workers, and community associates. Attend meetings of organizations in your field of interest and get involved. You never know where you are going to meet someone who could lead you to your next job.
  3. Be Professional: Ask your networking prospects for advice—not for a job. Your meetings should be a source of career information, advice, and contacts. Start with a firm handshake, eye contact and a warm smile. Focus on asking for one thing at a time.
  4. Be Patient: Heena Noorani,research analyst with New York-based Thomson Financial, recommends avoiding the feeling of discouragement if networking does not provide immediate results. She advises, “Be prepared for a slow down after you get started. Stay politely persistent with your leads and build momentum. Networking is like gardening: You do not plant the seed, then quickly harvest. Networking requires cultivation that takes time and effort for the process to pay off.”
  5. Be Focused on Quality—Not Quantity: In a large group setting, circulate and meet people, but don’t try to talk to everyone. It’s better to have a few meaningful conversations than 50 hasty introductions. Don’t cling to people you already know; you’re unlikely to build new contacts that way. If you are at a reception, be sure to wear a nametag and collect or exchange business cards, so you can later contact the people you meet.
  6. Be Referral-Centered: The person you are networking with may not have a job opening, but he or she may know someone who is hiring. The key is to exchange information and then expand your network by obtaining additional referrals each time you meet someone new. Be sure to mention the person who referred you.
  7. Be Proactive: Stay organized and track your meetings. Keep a list of your contacts and update it with any leads given to you. Send a thank-you note or email if appropriate. Ask if you can follow-up the conversation with a phone call, or a more in-depth meeting.
  8. Be Dedicated to Networking: Most importantly, networking should be ongoing. You will want to stay in touch with contacts over the long haul—not just when you need something. Make networking part of your long-term career plan. 

Questions to Ask During Networking Meetings

  • What do you like most (least) about your work?
  • Can you describe a typical workday or week?
  • What type of education and experience do you need in this field?
  • What are the future career opportunities in this field?
  • What are the challenges in balancing work and personal life?
  • Why do people enter/leave this field or company?
  • Which companies have the best track record for promot- ing minorities?
  • What advice would you give to someone trying to break into this field?
  • With whom would you recommend I speak? When I call, may I use your name? 

Do’s & Don’ts of Networking

  • Do keep one hand free from a briefcase or purse so you can shake hands when necessary.
  • Do bring copies of your resume.
  • Don’t tell them your life story; you are dealing with busy people, so get right to the point.
  • Don’t be shy or afraid to ask for what you need.
  • Don’t pass up opportunities to network. 

Written by Thomas J. Denham, managing partner and career counselor of Careers In Transition LLC.