by Lezlie Garr, CCTC, CPRW
When is the best time to start networking?
It’s now—the best time is now.
And, let me just say that if you’re anything like me, you’ve heard this piece of advice before, and it irritates you because you think to yourself, ‘Sure, it’s important to have a network, but I don’t have one and it takes time to build one, so that really doesn’t help me out right now.’
And because I’ve been in that position, I can tell you that you just have to start somewhere.
(After you finish here, learn about leveraging LinkedIn to maximize your networking and your job search success in this blog’s companion piece here)
Having a strong network is important and it can work for you on multiple levels in your job search.
For one, referral candidates have always been a preferred source for companies to find high quality candidates.
The reason for this isn’t because these referrals are magically better than everyone else who applies. It’s because they can be trusted more easily by the recruiter because there is a well-known mutual connection who is ready and willing to vouch for them. And studies show that referral candidates can be hired more quickly and onboarded more efficiently than any other external source.
That’s why it’s so valuable to leverage your network to get a referral for a role, because it lets you bypass the ‘anonymous submission’ phase of the recruitment cycle and go directly to a decision-maker with ‘referral hire’ status, which puts you in a way better position and gives you much better odds overall.
Building a strong network will help you gain access to resources that will foster your career development. It will help you stay on top of the latest trends in your industry, keep a pulse on the job market, and meet prospective employers, referral connections, and/or mentors.
Another reason networking is a valuable piece of your job search is because of a theory called Planned Happenstance.
Career Theorist John Krumboltz created this theory and clarified it as “constructing unexpected career opportunities”.
Krumboltz found there were 5 traits that significantly increased a person’s “luck” when looking for work:
• Risk Taking
Through each of these traits, job seekers were able to seemingly curate their own luck by simply taking actions and placing themselves in situations that were most likely to lead to success.
Below are some examples of how you can use each of these traits as calls-to-action to help construct unexpected career opportunities.
Let’s say you see a friend on social media who seems extraordinarily happy in their career. Like, just overjoyed to be doing what they love for work.
If you notice that and have a closed response like, “Wow, so-and-so seems really happy in their career – good for them. Moving on…” or even, “Wow, so-and-so seems really happy in their career – I wish I was that happy in my career. Must be nice. Oh well, moving on…” – then that won’t lead you to any new opportunities.
But if you let curiosity serve as a call-to-action for you to take a step in a new direction, then that could possibly lead you to new opportunities.
So instead of closed responses like the one above, you can try to adopt more open and curious responses like, ‘Wow, so-and-so seems really happy in their career – I wonder what’s involved in their role that they like so much? Maybe I should see if they’ll talk to me more about that.”
This will allow you to be more open to the possibilities and opportunities around you, thus increasing your odds of finding yourself in a ‘right place at the right time’ situation.
Let’s say you’ve identified your dream company. A company that makes you feel like, “If I can get a job there, life will be good from here on out”.
You spend hours preparing your resume, LinkedIn profile, and application, but when you apply – you never hear anything back.
Do you give up, or try again?
If you’re practicing using persistence as a call-to-action, you try again.
And you do even more than that.
You research more about the company and role, and figure out where you can make improvements to your resume, LinkedIn profile, etc.
You reach out to people you know to see if they know anyone within that company they can introduce you to.
You look people up on LinkedIn (more about that in the companion blog here) who work within that company, and you follow, connect with, and perhaps even reach out to them in order to learn as much as you can about what it takes to land the role you’re targeting within that company.
Through persistence (and probably some curiosity, too), you think outside the box and find your way in.
Same scenario: you’ve identified your perfect company. Only this time, the position you want (and you’re qualified for) isn’t even available.
What do you do?
Give up – or get creative?
If you’re willing to be a little flexible, you may be able to find a similar role in that company that you can take in the short term that will get you into the company, that you can then parlay into a future opportunity to get into the role you really want.
This ties a lot into the topic I covered in my Career Tip Tuesdays Pop-Up Class on LinkedIn LIVE in January.
The idea is that whether you approach situations with optimism or pessimism, your brain will be more likely to see opportunities which confirm that mindset.
So, if you can stay more optimistic than not, your brain will be more like to see opportunities around you, because it wants to confirm that optimism.
And, vice-versa if you’re pessimistic and don’t believe there are good opportunities around you, your brain may miss or even ignore good opportunities in favor of confirming that pessimistic mindset.
Of course, you want to be as informed as you can when taking any risks into consideration. That said, taking well-informed, calculated risks is a great way to bring about new opportunities.
And the final WHY I’ll mention about networking is that human connection is good for you.
I firmly believe we are better people when we surround ourselves with others who are better than us at some thing or in some way.
And the only way we can do that is by connecting with one another.
Networking is best when considered as a long-term strategy. That said, in a job search there are times when a short-term strategy can be effective.
The best short-term networking strategy involves the people closest to you: your friends and family.
(Many job seekers I work with are initially hesitant about this, but in almost every case they’re surprised by how many people are willing to help them if they ask.)
Reach out to all the people you know well, who like you, and who are really in your corner. Tell them your situation and include as much relevant detail as possible. This isn’t a time to be vague.
Let them know what role, industry, or company you’re looking for, and why you’re great for that role, industry, or company.
Ask them to keep you in mind if they hear of any openings and ask them to consider whether they know someone in that role, company, or industry they can introduce you to.
When doing this, always be mindful of the person you’re reaching out to, and always show gratitude for any time or help they give you.
For your long-term strategy, think of growing your network strategically with people who can help you get where you want to go – even if it’s just through the example they set.
Networking isn’t just going to be about people you wind up creating a close connection with, it’s also about the people you follow, look up to, and learn from – even from afar.
Adopt networking into your daily / weekly routine. Connect regularly with your network – something that’s truly never been easier, thanks to social media and LinkedIn, especially.
Start with people you know: friends, former and current colleagues, people you went to school with.
Check out who they follow or are connected with, because those may be good people for you to follow or connect with, too. (more about Follow vs. Connect on LinkedIn in the companion blog here)
You can also look for people who graduated from the school you went to, people in your ideal company / job / industry.
Overall, you want to network with people you like, respect, and can learn from.
So, what do you actually say when you go to connect?
The first thing I’ll tell you is that flattery will get you everywhere. Do some research into each person and find something they’ve done, said, posted, etc. that you like – and start by complimenting that.
You can also look for commonalities between the two of you to help break the ice. I’ve found that sharing an alma mater (i.e. having both gone to the same college) can often be a great starting point.
(Total insider tip on finding the right people and researching their content on LinkedIn in the companion blog here)
Some important things to remember:
(1) Don’t start with an ask and (2) connect based on the other person’s best interests, not just your own.
You’re genuinely trying to make lasting connections based on mutual interest, so don’t make it all about your needs.
Maintaining a strong network
In all of your connections, try to be helpful, thoughtful, and/or supportive as much as possible. Bring positivity into people’s lives – people appreciate that.
And if anyone helps you in any way – be thankful and show gratitude.
In the beginning, you can track your activity with an excel spreadsheet or a tracker you find online.
Keep track of the important people you connect with, when you last contacted them, and what your communications have been thus far.
Again, LinkedIn is the best way to start and maintain your professional network, so don’t miss out on the great tips for using LinkedIn to maximize your job search (and get hired faster) in the companion blog, here.
To truly help you get started, I’ve included 5 example scripts to help you network both on and off of LinkedIn.
- Someone you know who your advocate and/or supporter is already
I hope all is well!
As you may or may not know, after being at my current position as [Job Title] for [Company Name] for [Tenure], I recently decided to look for a new challenge in the [Industry] field.
I’m reaching out to you to ask for your help with any leads or contacts for a [Level] [Job Title/Function] position in [City], ideally in the [Industry] or [Industry] field. I’m particularly interested in joining a [Type of Company] but I’m also open to [Other Type] work.
I’m sure you must be super busy, so if you don’t have the opportunity, I completely understand.
But if you happen to know of any job opportunities or leads that you could to share with me, it would mean the world to me if you would send them my way. I’ve also attached my resume, in case you can pass it along to anyone.
Thanks in advance for your help! I hope you’re doing well and hope to catch up with you more soon.
- Asking a Friend for a Referral for an Informational Interview
Hi [friend’s first name],
Hope all is going well in your world!
Working as a [what you do] at [where you work] for [number of years] has been great. But it feels like time to move on to a new [employer, career, or industry]. Given your vast experience and really great network, I’m hoping you can help me connect with a few people.
I’m focusing my exploration on [employers, location, or name of field/industry] for opportunities as a [job title] or [job title]. Since you’re so familiar with that [location or field], I would really appreciate your help by introducing me to anyone you know who works [in your target field or for one of the employers].
My goal is to set up a short conversation with a few people to learn more about their experience and maybe ask a few questions. I won’t be asking for a job — only for information.
I’ve heard great things about [these employers or these jobs], and learning more about them would be very helpful. I am particularly interested in an introduction to people who work [at any of these employers or in any of these jobs]:
• [Employer A name or Job Title A]
• [Employer B name or Job Title B]
• [Employer C name or Job Title C]
• [Employer D name or Job Title D]
• A [similar employer or someone doing a similar job] you recommend considering.
I really appreciate your consideration and any time or referrals you might be able to give me. Feel free to reach back out if you have any questions.
Let me know if there is anything I can do for you!
LinkedIn Conversation Starters
(Remember, it’s important for you to do research before-hand so you can customize these.)
- A Former Co-worker
Hello again [Name],
I really enjoyed working with you at [Company] from [Year] to [Year]. Your [blank] skills were so impressive—I really learned a lot from you! If you have the chance, I’d be thrilled to catch up and learn more about what you’re doing in your new role at [Company].
- Someone You Met at a Networking Event
It was great speaking to you at the [blank] event in [City] last month [or whenever]. Your [blank] work at [Company] sounded really interesting [/fulfilling/important/complex/etc.]! I’d like to follow your career and learn from the work you do.
- Someone You Admire
For the last year, I’ve been following your work for [Company], and it’s really impressive. I particularly loved your recent [blank]—it was [blank] and [blank].
I’m a [blank] interested in working in [Industry]. If you have 20 or so minutes in the next couple weeks, it would mean the world to me to hear more about how you started working in the field and what skills you think are most important in the profession.
Thank you so much,
[Your Full Name]
Lezlie is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and Career Transition Coach with 8+ years’ experience helping high-achievers and go-getters find the clarity and confidence they need to achieve career happiness.
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