You’ve done the soul-searching work of developing your career search criteria, and you’ve done research to identify target companies. You have your resume and LinkedIn profile. And, you have been looking at job postings to develop your knowledge of different careers and career vocabulary. Now it’s time for you to reach out and connect to people directly, to get first-hand information about the roles that interest you, to learn more about organizational culture, and, especially, to find out about job openings that never get advertised.
Remember that two-thirds of all available jobs are not posted. They are filled by word-of-mouth. That’s why putting time into outreach, networking, and informational interviews makes a huge difference in your job prospects. With practice and persistence, you will become skilled at finding ways to meet people and get appointments with employers. You will learn how to have good networking conversations, ones that help you clarify what you want to do, and conversations that lead to referrals and job opportunities.
Aim to spend 50 percent of your job search schedule on networking, informational interviews, and follow-up. If that sounds like a lot of time, know that it’s worth it. Networking greatly increases your odds of finding jobs that are a match for you and getting hired. It’s the difference between applying blind and having a personal reference to make sure your application is reviewed. It’s the difference between seeing one-third of available jobs and learning about all the openings that never get posted. Which odds do you prefer?
There is another major benefit to networking: making professional connections. As you begin meeting with people, you will find those who offer wisdom and support during your search and possibly throughout your career. Networking can help you build a lifelong community of colleagues and friends and referral sources. That’s why it’s so important to follow-up and stay in touch.
Networking is stepping out on your career path, meeting people, and having informative conversations. When you ask good questions, networking can help you clarify career interests, generate leads, get personal referrals, and find out about more job possibilities, organizations, and companies than you can imagine.
Informational interviews are conversations that you set up to get first-hand information about job duties and company culture, to find out what it takes to get in the door, and to get personal referrals and introductions. These meetings will help you evaluate which jobs and companies really are a good match for you. Every conversation has the potential to help you apply smarter and get insight about how to prepare for interviews. You can work straight from your target companies list to decide where to reach out for informational interviews.
Creating Your Networking Plan
There are four main networking activities:
- Finding people
- Reaching out
- Having good conversations
- Making your network work for you
Take out the Networking Outreach Worksheet on the next page and start filling it in using the prompts below.
Your community. All of us have more connections than we realize. You’ve got friends, family, neighbors, people in community and religious groups, people you went to school with, people you have done projects and volunteered with, people you do activities with. Remember that all of them know lots of people, too, so they can introduce you to more people. List those people in the category on your networking outreach list.
Targeted outreach. This is the list of people and companies you will use for informational interviews. Use your career search criteria, job titles and target companies to research and identify people doing work that interests you and/or working at the companies that interest you. Look people up by job title and company. Add these names to your networking outreach list. Resources to help you do this research include LinkedIn, company websites, alumni directories, and professional association websites.
*A special note about LinkedIn. You can use LinkedIn to research and “follow” companies that interest you. The platform also hosts many professional groups that you can join. These activities will help you find people to connect with and will make you more visible in professional networks.
Affinity-related outreach. There is an event category on the outreach list, and your goal is find activities where you can meet people. Below is a partial list of ideas:
· Webinars, courses, and workshops.
· Activities like Toastmasters and Improv where you interact and learn about each other, which makes it easier to follow-up and have a conversation.
· Networking events. These may have networking or meet-and-greet or connect in the title. Note that the absence of in-person events has spurred an increase in online events. You will find them!
· Meetups. The meetup.com site has many events broken down by interest area and demographic.
· College-hosted career gatherings. During COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges are sponsoring connection activities to support networking.
· Special interest group events. Look for events, meetings, and online lists that serve special interests, including nonprofit, environmental, fundraising, design thinking, pitch-fests.
· LinkedIn groups and events. LinkedIn hosts many special interest groups often by profession.
· Professional groups and associations. Look for groups of start-up folks, coders, accountants, etc.
· Company sponsored events. Companies often host events, including career fairs and educational events.
· Online happy hours.
· Mastermind, job support, and coaching groups. People who help people are natural connectors. Look for groups that target people with needs similar to yours. You may make connections that lead to referrals.
Networking by doing. During your search, you may be doing activities to build your professional skills and your network. Add volunteering, community activities, internships, part-time jobs, gigs, and freelancing as part of your networking outreach plan.
Networking by applying for jobs. Every time you apply for a job, you are reaching out. You may not get hired (on the first try) but you have made contact. So, add companies and people you’ve contacted to your networking list. That’s especially important to do if you’ve had an interview at a company and did not get hired. The interviewers are now part of your network. They are now warm leads. Stay in touch and let them know you are still interested in roles at their company or in similar roles at other companies. Ask for introductions and suggestions.
Get ready to fill your calendar.
We recommend that you have five networking conversations every week, with a combination of people you don’t know and people you already know.
To get there, you will want to create an email schedule, an email and phone script ready, be prepared with your introduction, and stay on top of upcoming events.
Here’s a typical week:
Monday: research and identify people I want to meet at two companies.
Tuesday: email outreach to four people— two that I know; two that I don’t know.
Wednesday: informational interview.
Thursday: Young Nonprofit Network meeting; phone call with brother’s roommate.
Friday: informational interview; phone conversation with Net Impact alum.
Note that networking is a combination of researching and choosing who you want to reach out to, reaching out and making contact, following up and staying in touch. Having a weekly schedule will help you meet your networking goals and stay on top of the actions needed to connect with people.
HAVE GOOD CONVERSATIONS
Networking is about relating. Give and take. Conveying your interests, being curious about others, being open, listening more than talking, but being ready to talk about who you are, your skills, background and your interests. Networking is the moment when all your homework creating a career asset inventory and researching your career interests will be really useful. You can show that you have prepared and thought about what you want to do.
Networking is gathering information. It’s also asking for introductions so that you can meet more people.
Always be ready to introduce yourself. Use the sample format below for guidance.
Be prepared with questions so you can have a good conversation and get the information you’re after.
If you want to meet people working in your targeted field, You might ask:
- What organizations, places, or people do you know of in this field?
- Who do you recommend that I talk to? If you get a name, ask the person if they will introduce you or if you can use their name when you make the contact.
- (Or) I see that you are connected to someone working in this field. Could you introduce me?
- What do you think is interesting that’s happening in this field?
Be ready to brainstorm during the conversation. They may have ideas about people and organizations in related fields.
If you’re trying to get clear about your career path, You might ask:
- How did you get started in this career?
- What skills have been most helpful to you?
- What would you recommend to someone early in their career?
- What do you find exciting about what you’re doing?
- What impresses you most when you’re interviewing someone?
Notice what gets your attention and what doesn’t. Follow your interests and your instincts.
Be enthusiastic. Remember that you are making an impression. Stay connected to your excitement about meeting people and moving closer to a fulfilling job.
Try not to ask ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions. They are conversation stoppers.
MAKE YOUR NETWORK WORK FOR YOU: the importance of organization and follow-up
You are going to be talking with lots of people, gathering information, and generating leads. Great networkers take good notes. They are polite, they follow up right away, and they stay in touch. When you add names to your outreach list, make note of where you met. You will want to remember good networking events and sources. Use a tracking chart to keep a schedule for following up and to have an organized way to store your notes and keep track of referrals. When you have a personal introduction, try to act on it right away, which means within one or two days. The more people you meet, the more important it will be to remember who introduced you to who!
Each time you meet someone new you have a system to add them to your network and show your appreciation.
- Invite them to your LinkedIn network.
- Within one day, send a short thank you note saying you were glad to meet them. Thank them for specific advice. Remind them who they said they’d introduce you to.
- If they make introductions for you, try to send emails to these referrals within one day. Keep yourself top of mind! Show your commitment to your career outreach!
Sample Thank You:
Dear Laura, It was great meeting you at Toastmasters yesterday. Thanks again for offering to introduce me to Julia Levin at Net Impact. Can you let me know when you've emailed her so I can follow up in a timely manner? I look forward to being in touch. Best, Tom
Follow-up and connect with referrals! Pursue leads! Keep building your network and your knowledge of careers and companies.
Stay in touch for the long-term! When you are actively looking for a job, the general rule of thumb is to circle back as often as once a month. Yes, when you feel you have a good connection, you can send a note to someone with a short update about your career focus and remind them of your interests and that you are still in an active search.
Be patient! Networking conversations are the beginning of a relationship. You may kiss a few frogs. Do NOT go into these conversations looking for a job offer!
Hidden gem: Networking is a skill. You will get better at finding good contacts, introducing yourself, having fruitful conversations, and generating leads. Networking will serve you best when you are consistent, persistent, and patient. The effort you put in, along with gracious thank you’s and timely follow-ups, can pay dividends in your job search and in your life.
Networking during a Pandemic
In the COVID job search lexicon, networking, reaching out, and informational interviews are essential. The same conventional wisdom about networking that applies today was true before the pandemic: you are most likely to find jobs by making contact with people, not applying through the internet.
What’s different during the pandemic is that you won’t be able to make coffee dates or bump into someone at a conference. You won’t be able to pull someone aside after a lecture. You have to be intentional, deliberate, and courageous when reaching out. You will have to be bold and take the initiative to pick up the phone, send an email, and schedule an online conversation. And, you’ll have to be inventive about how to meet people.
The good news is this: you are more likely to make a new connection NOW than you were before the time of Covid. Some people have more time in their schedules. Most of us have more flexibility in our schedules. People are working from home. We all know that it takes effort and gumption and diligence to find a job now.
The playing field is indeed more even. All of us are behind a screen or on the phone. We can’t meet in person.
Right now, there is more understanding and more compassion and empathy for job seekers. All of us know there is a great need for work and helpful connections.
Most people want to help other people, especially when you’re polite, patient, and prepared. That does not mean that you call and *slam-dunk* get a job. You have to connect; you have to cultivate a relationship; you have to be interested in them; and you have to make sure you are energized, focused and relaxed.
Hidden gem: Without networking, your job search will be tied to your ability to get through resume scans and figure out computer algorithms. By making a point of connecting with people and talking about your interests and goals, you will have a much more interesting job search, gain insights about professions and companies, uncover jobs and professions you’ve never even heard of, and ultimately, your chances of getting hired will multiply.