Developing your network
Many people go through their whole careers without ever applying for an advertised job. New opportunities come to them through their network. As many as 60% of jobs are filled this way via the hidden job market; unlisted, unpublished, and unadvertised jobs.
Often these jobs are created especially for someone who has been referred or recommended, or become formalised only once the employer meets the right person to act on an opportunity they had been contemplating. Possibly the employer knows that someone in their existing staff will be moving on but has not yet advertised the role formally.
Networking – a technique better known as “word of mouth” – is the most effective way to reach this “hidden” job market. Anyone can use networking to find opportunities. It simply requires a more conscious and systematic approach to working through the people you know. This article explains the basic techniques.
The major advantage of tapping in to the hidden job market is dramatically reduced competition. Unlike most advertised positions, people who source jobs via their network or by a direct approach do not have to compete with large fields (think hundreds plus) of applicants.
Networking operates by sharing information and making new connections. People “in the know” can tell you what is going on in their industry, and good people know other good people.
In New Zealand, statistics suggest that you are only two people away from any other person. This “two degrees of separation” implies that you know someone who knows someone who knows the person who can help you get your “dream job”.
What is a network?
- A group of people who will act as eyes and ears for you out in the marketplace
- People who might uncover a job opportunity for you
Who is on your network list?
- Colleagues in your past organisation
- Colleagues who have moved to other organisations
- Staff who have worked for you
- People who have sold products to you
- People you know socially who might know what is going on in particular companies
- Linkedin / FaceBook contacts
How does networking work?
The purpose of networking is to:
- Establish new, beneficial “connections”
- Develop rapport (chemistry)
- Get information about target industries or companies, employment trends and actual job openings
- Obtain the names of other relevant people you can meet
- Gain personal exposure and to be remembered
You probably wonder whether people will take time away from their busy schedules to talk with you. They will, because:
- They already know you, or you have been referred to them by someone they know
- Meeting with you helps keep them informed, up-to-date, and well-connected
- Experts love to share their expertise (provided you don’t ask for job leads or other things they are not in a position to give you)
Networking meetings are information meetings
Networking meetings are to share information and make new connections, not to sell yourself to an employer. Listen, ask questions, and show interest in the other person.
General networking guidelines
Initial networking contacts come from many sources: former employers and co-workers, friends, relatives, neighbours, professional associations, schools, teachers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants and many more.
Whenever possible, conduct networking meetings face-to-face, not by telephone. Personal exposure makes a far stronger impression that a voice on the phone.
Be very careful to respect the time of the person you are meeting with. Successful networking meetings are focused on sharing information and can be completed in 30 minutes or less. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to cut short a meeting that is going well, but you should make sure that you don’t inadvertently run on too long.
Bring copies of your CV with you, but don’t start the meeting by showing it. Even the best CV is a poor substitute for your own words about your interest, skills and background. Plan to give your CV to your contact at the end of the meeting.
Dress well. Although these meetings may be “informal,” you want to be remembered for your professional image.
Asking for meetings
First of all, remember that the purpose of a networking letter or a phone call is to get meetings to share information. You are not applying for a job.
Both letters and telephone calls work well for setting up meetings. Neither has to be long or formal. First mention who referred you, then say that you are conducting a job search and that you would appreciate a brief meeting to get some information and advice. Be specific. You can give a short summary of your background and job objective, but do not go into great detail. Ask if you might get together at a convenient time:
“John Jones suggested that I talk with you about my interest in chemical engineering. He thought you would be an excellent person to give me some information about …”
Then give a brief objective and summary.
“Perhaps we could meet briefly sometime during the next two weeks. I would greatly appreciate your help in identifying my options and commenting on my job search strategy. Would early or late next week suit you best?”
An agenda for networking meetings
A clear agenda is useful for keeping meetings moving and on track:
Take the pressure off! After friendly introductions and thanks for meeting, mention the person who referred you.
Explain the purpose of the meeting:
What I am looking for at this point is some information about…”
Make sure the person knows that you did NOT ask for the meeting to ask for a job:
“Although I have begun a job search, I want to make it clear that I did not come here to ask YOU for a job or even expect that you know of an opening”
Give a brief personal profile, summarise why you are looking for a job, what kind of job you are looking for, your general background, work experience, and several specific strengths. This should take no more than two minutes. You can practice this short introduction at home.
Ask specific, prepared questions and gather information. You might ask the person’s views about trends in your industry. Some potentially useful questions are included later in this section. Take notes.
Answer the person’s questions of you clearly and succinctly. Remember the person may also be interested in your knowledge in a particular market. That way the networking meeting is mutually beneficial. The person might also be questioning you to verify your depth of knowledge in your field to understand who to refer you to.
Ask for names of other people you might meet or talk with to gather more information. Be as specific as you can about the types of people you want to make contact with.
Close courteously and positively, thanking the contact for the meeting and indicating that you will stay in touch. Ask if an updated copy of your CV would be helpful.
Following up and tracking progress
After each meeting, remember to send a thank-you letter, addressing any unanswered questions. Use this note to emphasise your interest in remaining in contact with this person, that you wish to keep him or her informed of your progress, as well as anything new you learn about the issues you discussed.
by Jo Hampton, Successful Résumés New Zealand.