As much as 85% of jobs are found as a result of networking, according to research by PayScale, proving the old adage, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” But not all networking is the same. Depending on the stage in your career, your actions should change and evolve, says Judy Robinett, author of Crack the Funding Code: How Investors Think and What They Need to Hear to Fund Your Startup.
“From finding your initial job to moving ahead, networking is a huge part of your career path,” she says. “At each stage, your networking needs to be focused differently. What got you that first job might be the ability to keep your head down and work hard, but keeping your head down doesn’t help if you want to get promoted or later become a rainmaker.”
Networking requires a distinct skill set. Here’s how to master the process at different stages of your career.
Getting your first job
At the beginning of your career, it’s important to tell everyone you’re looking for a job, says Robinett. “Use two golden questions: ‘What other ideas do you have for me?’ and ‘Who else might you know that I should talk to?'” she says. “The best part is that jobs [found through networking] have 6% higher pay than those applied for directly.”
Build a network starting with everyone you know, such as family, friends, professors, and managers from previous jobs or internships, suggests Mark Beal, adjunct professor at Rutgers University and author of Decoding Gen Z.
“As a professor, one of my main objectives is to help students get jobs,” he says. “I always bring guests to my classes, and students ask if they should introduce themselves. Yes! But also invite [the guests] to connect on LinkedIn.”
If you’re fresh out of college, use youth to your advantage. “I tell students that 99% of people want to help you; they were in your shoes and they remember who helped them break into business,” says Beal. “Use this time to ask for help, introductions, and advice. Put yourself out there.”
Getting your first promotion
Once you’ve landed your first job, networking can help you gain more visibility as well as build skill sets you’ll need to get promoted, says Robinett.
“Volunteer for committees with diverse employees across the company, making sure you get to know folks with P&L responsibilities who tend to be the decision makers,” she says. “Take advantage of any in-house training and attend outside training to gain key information on compensation, industry knowledge, and key contacts.”
Robinett also suggests attending conferences. “One or two industry experts can change the course of your career,” she says.
If you’re lacking skills you may need in the future, consider volunteering with not-for-profit organizations to acquire them. Robinett volunteered with a local United Way and worked on the finance committee. “I did this so I could learn budgets and add [to my resume] that I controlled a $4 million budget that helped me land my next job,” she says.
As you become more established, position yourself for promotion by determining the influencers in your organization; they aren’t always part of the hierarchy of its org chart, says Robinett.
“Networking allows you to build social capital and improve your emotional IQ, which is often listed as the No. 1 most valuable career skill,” she says.
Leadership and beyond
To move into management positions, strategically networking with people outside of your organization is critical, says Robinett. Get to know outside recruiters as well as people who are influencers in your community.
“Research shows that promotions are faster for those who have a strong network,” she says.
If you want to find a new job in a different industry or even create your own job, networking is crucial. “Seventy-five percent of millennials want to start their own businesses,” says Robinett. “High-end networking skills will give you access to resources-best information, best ideas, funding, and the right people. [Former General Electric CEO] Jack Welch said, ‘Forget an MBA; learn to network!'”
While tactics may change depending on the stage of your career, never stop networking, especially in an age where technology is playing a more important role in hiring. Whether you’re 21 or 45 or 50, you need to get past the organization’s robots when you’re submitting a resume or application online, says Beal.
“If your application doesn’t match enough terms, you probably won’t hear back or get a first interview,” he says. “To bypass the system, you’ve got to go a little old-school, with good, old-fashioned human interaction. It’s HI versus AI, and it’s more powerful. Use your network and make connections. You never know who will be the person who opens a door for you.”