Statistics show that up to 94% of job seekers find their next position through networking and the “hidden or informal job market.”

However, networking is probably one of the most underutilized job-search strategies, with most job seekers focusing their search on the formal job market – online postings.

What is Networking?

  • Talking to people who know you, are familiar with what you want to do, and can provide information to help you progress toward your goal.
  • Connecting with people who are employed in your field of interest and can share inside information on what the job field is really like.
  • Contacting individuals within organizations for which you believe you’d like to work and learning about the culture and hiring process.
  • Getting the inside track on a job that hasn’t yet been advertised.

Steps to Effective Networking

Develop a Personal Marketing Plan

Articulate to your network what skills you have and how and where you want to use them. Identify your skills, interests and goals. Make sure your resume is current and targeted to your goals. Give individuals in your network a copy so that they have a ready reference to your background and abilities when they talk to their contacts.

Do Your Research

Investigate the positions, industries and organizations that interest you. Find out as much as you can; the information gained may help you narrow down your list and focus your efforts.

By being knowledgeable, you prove to people you meet that this is important to you. And, you bring value to your network by sharing information about current industry trends and issues that you have uncovered.

Make a List of who you Know

The first response by most people is usually: “I don’t know anyone.” That’s not true. We all have a larger network than we think. Consider:

  • Family – grandparents, aunts/uncles, brothers/sisters, cousins
  • Friends of your parents
  • Faculty (current and former)
  • Alumni
  • Neighbors
  • Your doctor and dentist
  • Clergy
  • Former employers and co-workers
  • Members of organizations you belong to – social and professional

Make a List of People You’d Like to Meet

These are the people in a particular position or employed by a certain organization that interests you. Having this list helps you focus when contacting your network. It’s very possible that someone in your network has just the contact you need.

Use Social Networking

A good place to start is on LinkedIn, a professional networking site. This differs from social networking sites such as Facebook. LinkedIn allows you to create a profile discussing previous work, volunteer, and educational experiences. There is also discussion space and an “Answers” section where you can post questions to other members and learn from their advice and expertise. In addition, you can develop your network and portfolio further by using Twitter, blogging, or creating a website. When joining any networking site, carefully read the Privacy Statement to understand how the company will use your profile information.

Make Contact with Those on Your List and those to Whom You’ve Been Referred

If you’ve received referrals, make sure you contact these people – after all, someone who knows you and what you’re looking for thought they would be a good connection for you. Be certain to solicit additional names from these new contacts in order to continue to expand your network. This is the essence of networking! There are a number of ways to make contact. If this is someone you speak with regularly, a phone call is all that’s needed. However, an introduction letter helps smooth the way before phoning someone you don’t know well or to whom you were referred.

Attend Networking Functions

Continue to build your network by attending professional organization meetings and conferences, career fairs, and other events that put you in contact with those who may be able to provide information.

Follow Up

Once you’ve met with your contacts, be sure to follow up as agreed. Chances are you were given new ideas and information which require more research. Networking is an ongoing process. Don’t neglect to follow up on new leads you, and update your network on the progress you’ve made as a result. Don’t forget to say “thank you.” We all want to know we’ve been able to help and that our efforts are appreciated. Sending a thank-you note to everyone you speak with goes a long way in maintaining your network.

Some Final Words

Call it what you will – information gathering, market research or any of the other terms used to describe networking – it is a skill that can help you both personally and professionally.

While networking often receives bad press, the main point to remember is that the process is about building relationships. Through these relationships you gain and give important information. You will find that if you take care of your network, your network will take care of you.