How to Network in Your Job Search

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When you're looking for a new job, there's no doubt that networking can be the deciding factor in how long it takes you to find employment or even if you find it. The more people you know, the better your chances are to find a job that is the right fit for your skills. If you approach networking in a haphazard fashion, however, you won't see the benefits that you're hoping to achieve. In order to make networking work for you, you need to have a plan for what you want to accomplish.

Before You Begin

Before you start networking, you need to do some prep work.

  • Know your goal. You need to know what you want to get out of networking. Since we're talking about finding a job, that's most likely going to be your goal. Be specific. You want a high school-level teaching job. You want an accounting job at a local business. You want to find freelance computer programming work. Although any contact you make has potential to connect you with a job, having a goal in mind will give you some direction as to where to look for new contacts.

  • Know your strengths. Write down a list of your areas of strength and your accomplishments. Memorize them so that you don't come up blank when you have a chance to brag about yourself. Although you don't want to be obnoxious about it, you do want people to know that you have the skills for the job you're seeking.

  • Be prepared. Have some business cards on hand with your contact information. Have an updated cover letter and resume ready to be sent out as soon as you're asked for one. Be ready to talk to anyone at any time because you never know when a contact might turn itself into a job opportunity.

  • Do some research. If your goal involves specific companies, or even if you're just looking for a job in a specific field, make sure you are up-to-date on current news and trends in your area of expertise. If you make a contact in the company or career field you'd like to work in, you'll be able to carry on an informed conversation and create a good impression.

The Networking Plan

Once you've done your prep work, you're ready to start networking. Having a plan will help you get the maximum benefit from your efforts.

  • Look for networking opportunities. Find out what professional and local networking organizations are available to you. Don't ignore your hobbies; even if they aren't related to your profession, someone you meet through a hobby may know someone who needs to hire a person with your skills. Pick out the two or three most likely organizations and become involved with them.

  • Don't be bashful. For some people, this is never a problem. They're naturally gifted at socializing. For others, it's difficult to interact with new people. If you're one of the latter, you may have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Make it a little easier by practicing some conversation starters. You might also consider bringing a friend to social gatherings to give you a boost of confidence.

  • Keep records. The point of networking is to get to know a large number of people and build a relationship with them. This only works if you remember their names. When you meet someone new, make a note of who they are and other relevant information, such as where they work, how you met them and any personal details that might help you start a conversation with them later. You can keep a notebook of contacts or store the information on your cell phone. If you're given a business card, make notes on the back of that. Find a system that works for you and keep up with it.

  • Follow up. It's crucial that you continue the contact once you've made it. Follow up in a reasonable period of time, usually a couple of days to a week after you met the person. Any longer and you run the risk that they will have forgotten you. An email is often sufficient, but a phone call or note posted in the mail can make a stronger impression.

  • Ask for advice. When you follow up, ask for advice, not a job. This creates a connection without putting the person in an uncomfortable position.

  • Maintain the contact. Once you've made a contact, don't lose it. That doesn't mean you need to stalk the person. It simply means that you should stay in touch, taking the time to send them an email or holiday greeting.

  • Find a way to help your contact. One way of staying in touch and making a good impression is to find a way to help your contact. It can be as simple as sending them the link to an article they would find useful. The more they think of you as providing something valuable, the more likely they are to consider you when a job opportunity arises.

Networking is a powerful weapon in your job search arsenal. If you approach networking with a plan in mind, you can make the most of the networking opportunities that open up for you.

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