November 3, 2016
Getting your degree, writing and perfecting your resume, carefully crafting a cover letter tailored to the position you're applying for, practicing answering common interview questions - even dry cleaning your best suit: There are dozens of things to do when you're trying to find a new job or change careers, but nothing may be more important than developing a robust network of contacts in your target industry. In 2013, ABC reported that as many as 80% of new jobs were found through networking.
Sonia Moffett, a career advisor at Southern New Hampshire University, recently presented an in-depth webinar on the ins-and-outs of networking and why it may be vital to reaching the professional goals you've set for yourself. Whether you're a current college student, a business professional, or perhaps both, if you haven't yet established a strong network, maybe it's time to start.
Simply put, networking is building, maintaining and "deepening" relationships with anyone and everyone who can help you improve your performance at work and can be of tremendous benefit when you're in search of a promotion or your next job. It's an always on-going process of meeting and knowing people in the industry you're interested in to learn from and share information with. Moffett calls it a "life skill," rather than something to be turned to only when you're looking for a favor from someone.
Networking works best when it's a two-way street. Sharing your own knowledge and experience with the people you meet in your industry strengthens your relationship with that person, thereby giving you another person to turn to when you someday need advice or knowledge they have. Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of the world's largest business networking organization, BNI International, calls it the law of reciprocity. "If you go into a relationship networking thinking that simply giving a referral is enough to get you a referral in return, you're confusing a relationship with a transaction," he said.
In many cases, it takes more than a good resume and deep experience to land your next great job. It can be who you know rather than what you know that makes the difference. Over the past decade, more and more jobs are found and filled by applicants who were referred to the employer.
It's also too important to ignore because your network is also a resource for you in the position you're already in. Relationships you develop through networking can help you gain industry-specific knowledge, prepare to take the next step in your career path, learn new ways to partner with companies and community organizations and prepare to advance to new positions in your industry. None of that happens overnight, so the best time to invest in networking is before you're in urgent need of a new job.
You may be surprised, but you're probably networking already. Meeting and getting to know people professionally and socially is what networking is all about. But setting out to network mindfully can increase how effective you are at it. People you know at work or at school and people from your personal life is one place to start. There are also many professional and industry groups that hold mixers and other events specifically geared toward generating networking opportunities. You can look for alumni events in your area, as well as local chambers of commerce, toastmasters groups, young professionals organizations, plus online social networks including LinkedIn and Twitter.
Once you've decided to deliberately grow your professional network, you should decide what your goal is. Are you looking to do industry research, find subject matter experts in your area or are you looking for new employment opportunities? Once you find out who you would like to learn more from, start reaching out to them, and be sure to be at any networking events near you that they may attend.
When you do meet people you want to add to your network, you should have a concise way to introduce yourself and describe a little bit about what you do. The so-called elevator pitch is a 30-60-second introduction that lets people know who you are as a professional, what you enjoy working on and what you're looking for. It shouldn't take more time than a typical elevator ride and can be an ideal way to initiate a conversation and quickly highlight your strengths.
You should practice your pitch so you have it ready when you meet someone knew at a business meeting or networking event. It can also function as the description on your profile on social networking sites, including LinkedIn. There are plenty of ways to network online. Just a few options include:
Sites like these allow you to find new contacts and reach out to them to establish a connection. The largest of these sites dedicated to professionals is LinkedIn, which you can use to join groups relevant to your industry, learn more about the industry and other professionals in it and to establish your own brand and highlight your skills.
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