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Networking: Love it? Hate it? Gotta do it!

When it comes to job searching, there is one tried and true piece of advice that has never gone out of style: network, network, network. While technology has driven the ease in which we apply to jobs with a simple mouse click or thumb tap, job searching the good old-fashioned networking still yields excellent results. As recruiters are inundated with potentially hundreds of applicants for one role, having a referral from someone they know and trust definitely helps. However, to a job seeker, networking can feel overwhelming.

Read on for 5 ideas to help you get started with networking.

1. Create a strategy. Before you initiate any kind of networking conversation, be prepared to answer one big question: “what is it that you’re looking to do next?” Hint: the right answer is not “I’m open to anything!” Without clear direction, your contact will have difficulty assisting you effectively. To answer this question well, do some research on the types of roles that you’re considering, the industries that interest you, and maybe even specific organizations that align with your values. You’ll want to connect your goals with your skills, experiences, and knowledge to underscore that you’re prepared to take this next step in your career. Also, think of specific questions to ask your contact so that you can get the most from your conversation.

2. Get organized. As with all aspects of the job search, remaining organized will help you to use your time effectively and stay on track to meet your goals. What organizational strategies have been most helpful to you in the past? Use the same strategies for documenting your networking efforts. For instance, I find spreadsheets useful. Create columns for your contact’s name, how you know them, their title and organization, notes from your conversation, and follow-up steps. Create daily, weekly, and monthly goals to maintain your motivation, and schedule time to build, cultivate, and leverage your network. Remember, networking should be a standard component of your job search, so set aside at least as much time as you spend perusing online job boards.

3. Start with existing contacts. For many job seekers, myself included (queen of the introverts here!) cold-calling new people to ask for career advice can strike fear into our hearts. Let’s start with a more manageable goal – low-hanging fruit! Who do you already know that may be able to give you some professional insight or advice? Make a list of friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues with that spreadsheet that you created in step 2. Hopefully you already have a strong LinkedIn profile with a robust network of connections (if not, we can help!) to add to your list of contacts. Then, start getting in touch! Send individual emails, LinkedIn messages, or even texts to ask your contacts for a few minutes of their time to discuss their career with you. Schedule brief phone calls, Zoom sessions, or coffee dates (as health conditions allow, of course) and be prepared with your pitch and strategy that you created in step 1. In all conversations, ask “is there anyone else you know who might be willing to chat with me?” to expand your network. Hopefully your contact initiates an introduction to their friend or colleague to help you connect.

4. Branch out to secondary contacts. Since you have already created a great organizational strategy, you’ll build a list of secondary contacts as you connect with your existing contacts. Initiate conversations with these folks, with the understanding that your response rate might not be quite as high as it was in step 3. When possible, create a warm connection to your new contact. For instance, you could state in an email, “Hello Ms. Harrison, my former colleague Stephanie Simpson recommended that I get in touch with you regarding the Brand Manager opportunity at your firm.”

5. Make new connections. Now that you’ve become more comfortable with networking, expand your reach to new connections. Try joining professional organizations or industry groups and attend their events (virtual or in person). Does your alma mater have a local alumni chapter? If so, join! Alumni associations can be especially helpful because you already have something in common with each of the members, and folks are often excited to help a fellow Bulldog, Yellow Jacket, or in my case, Horned Frog. Volunteering for causes that interest you can also help to expand your network, and you’ll share values with many of the new people you meet. Any conversation can turn into an opportunity to grow your network!

But remember, networking is a life-long endeavor. Even while happily employed, maintain contact with your existing connections and actively grow your network. Be willing and able to help the people who helped you in your job search, and proactively offer your advice and service. By doing so, you’ll be more than ready to capitalize (Kapitalize!) on your strong network when you embark on your next job search.

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