Finding a job in today’s market place requires much more than simply using an online job board and waiting for the employer to call. While this method can work, it can also be the most isolating, repetitive and frustrating way to spend your time, if it’s the only method you use to find a job. Online job search should encompass only a small percentage of your time, as the goal of job search is to secure employment, which means meeting people and participating in business and social activities that will grow your network and open opportunities that you may not find through online job boards.
While I am writing this, I realize that I should be honest; it took me years to understand the importance of networking because I was only focused on finding someone that would hire me when conducting a job search, rather than making connections that would lead to lifetime opportunities.
There’s a concept…lifetime opportunities.
Networking isn’t just about you and your own need to find a job, it is about making connections with people that you can also help through sharing your knowledge, information and resources with. Moreover, it is about developing social, professional and community ties who may not only help you with your job search now but will remain in your contact base for years to come, thereby creating lifetime opportunities. Not to mention, you may just end up making a few amazing friends along the way.
Defining your short and long-term goals should be the first step in your network journey. For the most part, you should already have some idea of what you want to achieve in the short-term but there might be some uncertainty about how to get started. It is time to look beyond the internet job boards and your job search and identify who makes up your current network and overall contact base.
To make this step a bit easier, let’s organize your contact base into three categories. 1.) Peer Networks; 2.) Business Networks; and 3.) Community Networks. Sometimes the people in these categories will intersect but for now, keep the focus of your contacts on where you know them from, rather than your personal relationship with them.
Peer networks are comprised of people you either know well or are acquainted with, have social ties with, or see/talk with frequently and can include:
- friends, family, previous co-workers, people you know through places you frequent, such as: the gym, the salon, the coffee shop, restaurants, retail and grocery stores, meetup groups and your online connections including Facebook, and other online networks
Business Networks are comprised of people you have worked with, hired or have associations with through various business related interactions and can include:
- previous supervisors, colleagues you have done business with, department managers, hiring managers and human resource professionals, professional associations you belong to or hold membership with, boards or committees you chair, LinkedIn, Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau, recruiters and temporary/staffing agencies, and trades people who you have hired or have completed work for you
Community Networks are comprised of people you know who are actively involved with, working for and/or volunteering through community related efforts and can include:
- non-profit organizations, sports and recreational organizations, educational institutions, government, healthcare and religious organizations.
Remember earlier when I said, “networking isn’t just about your own need to find a job, it is about making connections with people that you can also help through sharing your knowledge, information and resources with”? Since determining who your contacts are, and which category they fit into, you should now be thinking about reciprocity when you start asking them for help in your job search. By the way, do you have a business card ready? if you want people to have your contact information, your networking efforts will require a business card, (and not a business card from your current job if you’re employed.)
Reciprocity is the key to a successful networking strategy. Think about it this way;
Your friend comes to you for advice or information, and this happens on a regular basis. You feel happy to help the first few times but then come to realize that this friend has never once asked if you needed anything or taken any interest in meeting for coffee, spending time with you or even phoning you unless they want something from you. By now, you are probably feeling like ending the friendship, and rightfully so, because you are tired of being used to fulfill their needs, tired of being taken advantage of and most importantly tired of feeling disrespected by their lack of consideration for things you have helped them with, especially if they haven’t shared the outcome of your help or even said “Thank you”.
This is a prime example of why your networking efforts should not just be about asking for help from your contact base. Networking is about building relationships, maintaining relationships, showing genuine interest in what your contacts are up to and asking how you can help them. Asking someone to go for coffee or phoning to have a conversation about them rather than asking for help sets the foundation for a solid connection who sees value in maintaining their connection with you.
When you start applying a reciprocal approach to your networking strategy, your chances of getting the help you need with your job search will considerably improve because not only are you showing interest in what your contacts are doing and how you can help, you are also creating lifetime opportunities, as they will be willing and most importantly, interested in helping you now and in the future.