The way we look for jobs has changed drastically over the last few years. While many jobs have always been filled by networking, that number has shot up of late. According to joint research conducted by LinkedIn, up to 85% of jobs are filled through networking. However, most candidates still spend a majority of their time looking for postings and applying directly. That time would be spent more effectively networking.
But just because you know you should network more doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. For some of us—especially those of us who are naturally more introverted—networking might feel especially daunting. It requires you to get out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there. But with the right strategy, time, effort, and patience it can result in landing that job you’ve been after. Knowing someone in the company you want to work for helps, but by using your emotional intelligence, you can network effectively in order to find someone within the company who will give you an inside referral.
Almost all organizations would rather fill positions internally, through people they already know and trust, rather than taking what they consider the greater risk of hiring an outsider. Anna Schuliger and Melanie Feldman, creators of the Get Hired Course, have encouraged their clients to stop applying to jobs online, and instead to use the power of networking to take advantage of internal referral incentive programs.
You’ll be surprised by the reaction you can get when you message people the right way: One of their recent clients messaged the CEO of a company where she wanted to work, added value, and was hired the following week. No one thinks to message the CEO—but that’s kind of the point!
Here are things to consider when coming up with a networking plan:
Go over your social media accounts
Think strategically about all your social media profiles and posts from the perspective of a potential employer. Maybe your friends would think photos of your backyard party with loads of booze are cool, but it’s not likely to impress a prospective employer. Instead think of your achievements, awards you’ve received, teams you have been part of, and volunteer activities. Do your profiles and posts show someone who is active, engaged in healthy activities, good at working with others, and who cares about their community?
Use platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to find people in your field, industry, or at the company you want to work for. Look closely at their profile for anything that you can connect with them on. Perhaps you graduated from the same college, have similar goals, interests, or career trajectories. When you reach out to them, offer a sincere compliment, something that impresses you or that you would like to emulate. It feels good to be flattered. Just be careful to not overdo it—coming across as insincere is a turnoff.
Once you have a connection, ask if you can have a few minutes of their time to ask some questions. Let them know that you recognize that their time is valuable and you would appreciate just a few minutes. In non-pandemic times, face-to-face meetings provide the best opportunity to make a strong connection and be memorable. Offer to buy them coffee or lunch if possible. An online meeting on Zoom or Skype where you can see each other is the best second choice. If they agree, be well prepared with questions. Make it about them, not you.
This is not the time to ask about job opportunities or to pitch yourself. You’re gathering information and making a connection that you hope will lead to furthering your goals down the line. People love to talk about themselves and their achievements when they don’t feel pressured. Listen attentively and look for opportunities to probe and go deeper.
Look for opportunities to offer to do something for them. Perhaps you have written something in an area that they have an interest in. Whenever someone sends me a connection request on LinkedIn, I always send a reply thanking them and asking if there is anything that I can do for them. This has led to many valuable connections and partnerships. Always follow up your meeting with a thank-you note. If possible, send a handwritten note; so few people do this anymore, so it will help you stand out.
Keep the connection alive
A proverb says that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. Think of networking in the same way. The sooner you start, the more potential results will come your way. Start networking even when you are not looking for a job. Think ahead and plan where you want to be and network strategically to that point. Keep the connection alive by looking for opportunities to support the people in your network.
Do they have a book? Get a copy. And if you like the book, write a positive review and let them know. Comment on their blogs and posts. If your connection is strong, keep them updated on your career. Compliment them on any promotions they receive. Persistence is the key. Not every connection will lead somewhere. But even if it doesn’t, you’ve lost nothing; in fact, you’ve gained experience that will help you fine-tune your future efforts. Remember that you may be only one well-placed connection away from the job of your dreams.