Networking is a process that involves people, effort and information, and it is a process that gets results. I know firsthand of how powerful networking is, as that is how I obtained my current job as a career advisor at Becker College. After working in the insurance industry for over 12 years, I found myself in the job market. After much introspection, I realized I was better at helping other people find jobs, and that I was passionate about motivating others in their job searches.
I visited my career advisor, Erin Kelleher at Fitchburg State University, and, after joking that I would like her job, she suggested that I go on informational interviews. She told me that she obtained some of her previous jobs by going on such informational interviews and impressing employers. Soon after our meeting, I set up my first interviews, and soon had met with most of the Directors of Career Services in central Massachusetts colleges. What I discovered was that I would need my Master’s degree, some course work in career development, as well as some experience to pursue this career path. I started right away, taking my first MBA class at FSU, and looking for an internship opportunity in a college setting.
Through my informational interviews, I learned that getting the necessary experience for my new career goal would prove to be the hardest thing to achieve. Many colleges did not have the physical room for an intern/volunteer, or they already filled the internship position. After 12 informational interviews, I had almost given up. I did find an opportunity to become a co-facilitator of a once-a-week job seekers group, but this would not really qualify for experience in Career Services.
Then, after a very motivational presentation on networking by Eric Ross, Vice President of RENEW Energy Initiative Inc and public speaker, I received a call from Eric Saczawa, the Director of Career Services at Becker College. I had previously met with him two months earlier, and at the time he had an intern in place for the spring of 2012 semester. The current intern had to leave mid semester, so Eric was calling me to see if I was still interested in the internship. This was the true hidden job market, as Eric had to fill this position quickly, and did not have time to post the position. I was on his radar and got the call, starting the internship the next week.
The purpose of network meetings is to get in conversations with people who have the authority to hire you, and with people who know people who have the authority to hire you. Networking is very hard, but it is extremely effective. Career author, Martin Yates suggests meeting with people one or two levels above the position you are seeking, and while I agree with that, I have found that it is also helpful to meet with people in different positions, even in different industries, as you never know who they know. Martin Yates also tells a story of how he actually got his first book published. He was at a family picnic, and when talking to his great aunt about this book, she told him that she knew a publisher in America. Now his books are in print in over 63 languages.
Just as I tapped into the hidden job market with my job here at Becker, so can you. That is the purpose of networking. As I said in my last blog posting, only about 4% of jobs are found through the Internet alone (Online Job Hunting, by Richard Bolles), but about 60 – 80% are found through networking. Networking is essential to speed up your job search, and find jobs before they are advertised.
There are two kinds of networking. One is “working the room” and the other is one-on-one meetings from “personal referrals,” and I suggest that you use both. What I learned from Eric Ross’s presentation is I go to Local Chamber of Commerce networking events and exchange cards with five to ten people. Conversations at these events are easy to have, as everyone there is looking to network. If you are uncomfortable, ask a friend to go along, and approach people together. After the event, I look through the cards, and decide who I would like to connect with, and call or write to them asking them if they would like to meet for coffee. I also use a more formal approach of sending a networking letter asking for a meeting, and then following up with a call.
The basic strategy of networking is starting relationships based on mutual respect. It is also necessary to gain the advantage of numbers, by searching long and hard through your contact list. At each meeting, ask your contact who else they think you would benefit from meeting with. When you contact these referrals, let them know you were referred: “David Roth suggested that we connect.” Sell yourself with friendship and professionalism, and ask them if there is anything you can do for them. The purpose of networking is to “pay it forward” as you never know when you will be of help to someone else. Treat the meetings just as you would an interview, from professional dress to professional communication, letting them view you as someone who fits and could perform in their organization.
2. Tools you will need for networking:
- Networking cards
- Contacts and referrals
- Branding statement
- A positive attitude
- Professional documents printed on resume paper
3. Source of Contacts:
Your initial contacts can be family, friends, former coworkers, alumni and members of professional organizations. Networking meetings and events will offer more, and from one-on-one meetings, you will gain more referrals. Don’t forget to ask!
Connecting with your contacts will depend on the audience. Some people respond best with email, others like the personal touch of a traditional mailed letter, and all correspondences need to be followed by a phone call. When calling, use a script if you are nervous, and be persistent. Befriend the gatekeeper and try a minimum of 3 to 4 times. Eric Ross suggests even trying up to 6-8 times if the contact is a warm referral and you have a good relationship.
4. Important things to remember for networking meetings:
- Never ask for a job!
- Never ask for help getting a job!
- Never ask if contact knows of a job!
- Avoid the term “informational interview”
I used the term “informational interview” when meeting with Career Services Directors, and that worked for me in that specific field. However, this term is sometimes used by companies as the name of the interview with human resources in the hiring process, and for that reason, could be seen as indicating you are looking for a job. You are looking for a job, but you cannot ask for one. Asking for one will make the contact uncomfortable and they may choose not to meet with you. Instead, your aim is to impress them, so that when they are thinking of making a hiring decision, they will think of you.
5. What to discuss:
Many people ask me what to discuss during the meeting. Eric gave me the idea of coming up with a brief agenda, including 3 to 4 points to discuss. You can even include these in your letter or email. Suggestions would be questions about their organization, trends in the field, and the typical career path. One question that I tend to start with is asking how they got started in their field. People generally like to talk about themselves, and this is a very good way of getting a natural conversation going. The key is to listen more than you talk and learn as much firsthand knowledge about the industry as possible.
6. Some additional networking meeting tips:
Remember, this is not a job interview!
Be respectful of the individual’s time—keep your meeting to 20 – 30 minutes.
Come prepared with a solid list of questions.
Jot down notes either during the interview or immediately afterwards so you remember important points (ask if it is OK to take notes).
7. After the meeting:
Write and send a Thank You note immediately after the interview.
If appropriate, maintain periodic contact to update him/her on your educational achievements or job search.
Possibly, link up with the person on LinkedIn.
Networking is best done in person, but social networking via LinkedIn and Twitter can help to cement relationships. My experience is that people are much more willing to help people they have meet in person for more than 5 minutes. Of course, if meeting in person is not possible, a phone conversation or a Skype chat is the next best thing.
The possible outcomes of networking could be nothing, one or two good referrals, the beginning of a job discussion, or a call back for an interview. Networking also results in new professional relationships and lasting friendships. Be sure to give as much as you take. You may not find a way to give back right away, but give back to your network whenever you can, by connecting them with new referrals or even by sharing new industry knowledge.
Please share with me your networking success stories, and let me know if there are ways I can help you in your job search. Until next time, keep positive and keep networking.