Cultivating your network is one of the most effective ways to get your foot in the door when other methods seem to get you nowhere.
- Online and Off
The key to a successful job search is diversification, which means pursuing multiple avenues in order to land interviews. When you set out to build your network, make sure your campaign is both virtual (online) and physical (offline). Countless connections are made through social media platforms each day, and that’s one bandwagon you want to jump on. Even if you’re “old school” and skeptical of how a 3rd-degree LinkedIn connection can be useful to you, make the leap and give it a shot. It might surprise you when you learn you’re only a degree or two removed from employees at your target industry or ideal company. Remember that for each person you add, you’re growing your network by hundreds of people in that person’s social circle — people to whom you wouldn’t otherwise have access.
Likewise, if you’re shy and tend to avoid face-to-face encounters, consider breaking out of your comfort zone once in a blue moon. Attend meet-ups and conferences, set up casual informational interviews, and remind friends and relatives exactly what your target job is (they tend to forget, so be clear and specific). People may ignore your LinkedIn requests or block your Twitter messages, but they may respond more favorably when they see your smiling face in person. Plus, by networking offline you’ll give your eyes a much-needed respite from the otherwise constant glare of digital screens.
If you’ve been out of work for a while, or have been wasting away at a miserable job for years, your overall attitude and energy level may not be at their best. It’s easy to fall into the trap of frequently venting or desperately asking your social circle if they know of any job opportunities. The problem with that is, most people don’t respond well to desperation. Think about it — employers and colleagues want to work with people who are positive and competent in the face of stress. If you’re in the midst of the job search and you remain optimistic about your prospects, your friends and acquaintances are more likely to refer you because you appear confident. Otherwise, they may just feel sorry for you while secretly hoping that you’ll just quit complaining. Remember: smiles beget smiles.
Your positive energy can lead to wonderful opportunities. If you’re in a particularly bad mood, it’s fine to take a day off from networking and instead find a healthy way to improve your spirits. You never know — your next job lead might come from the guy you meet at the gym or the woman you accidentally bump into at the cafe! Find the golden egg in every opportunity that comes your way.
- Give And You Shall Receive
It may sound counterintuitive, but rather than asking others for something you want (e.g. a reference, an introduction, an informational interview), take a step back and think about what you can offer to others. This is one of the most effective ways to build a healthy network organically. There are plenty of folks out there who are looking for a better job, or need advice on topic X in which you’re an expert, or perhaps looking for an informational interview at your company. If you’re constantly asking others for help, it can get exhausting and lead to burnout from all the rejections. But by helping others you automatically feel better about yourself, which enhances your mood and, in turn, makes you a more attractive and effective networker, employee, spouse, etc. At the very least, you’ll be improving your reputation, and that’s what networking is all about.
Volunteering is another great way to meet new acquaintances and organically grow your social circle. By their very nature, people are much more willing to help you if you come across as a benevolent, socially responsible human being. Plus, if you’re volunteering for a cause you enjoy, you’ll be having tons of fun and enjoying potential health benefits as well — it’s a win-win combination.
- Be Patient, But Persistent
You can spend a long time building a massive network of thousands of people, but if you’re not in touch with the right people on a regular basis, the strength and value of that network can crumble. Follow-up is key. But don’t just reach out when you need something (like a recommendation). Instead, find appropriate ways and times to contact your acquaintances. For example, if you and your contact in industry XYZ have a shared love of kite-flying (which you learned because you follow them on, say, Twitter), and there’s an awesome local competition taking place, reach out and let them know. Even if they’re unable to attend, they’ll appreciate the gesture and you’ll be top of mind. Nurture your network as you grow it; otherwise, you’ll have 1,000+ LinkedIn contacts that are all but meaningless.