by Sharon Boerbon Hanson
What: Networking is a basic necessity. It simply means increasing the number of people you know. Connections are two-way: they help you, you help them, and you both keep in touch. It’s more than passing a card to someone and hoping they will help you. It’s about building relationships. It requires you do some giving. That giving may be as easy as saying “nice to meet you – here’s a link to an article you may enjoy” as a first follow-up interaction. (Note that “first” implies other follow up. Keep connecting even if it’s only once every few months.)
Why: The majority of jobs are filled through networking contacts. Employers prefer a known quantity, even if a person is known only by a referral from someone the employer knows.
How: Forget for a moment that networking is a business transaction. Instead, ask yourself: How can I help my contact? What do I bring to the relationship? How can my strengths or abilities meet a professional need of theirs? Have a card printed with your contact information on one side, and a “what you bring to a job” statement on the other.
Who: If you are actively seeking a job, you’ll want to network with those who either are a hiring manager or who can connect you to one. Use an online networking site, like LinkedIn, to request connections from your contacts. It’s fine to let everyone know you want a job, but getting connected to people in your field or industry is most important. When you’re in IT, you need to tap into your IT contacts for additional IT contacts. When you’re in heath care, do the same—and so on.
When: A job search needs to be a full-time job. Actively reach out to managers at companies where you’d like to work. Ask if they have a coming need, or know of someone who does. Often company websites are a source of contacts. Networking is about constantly being on the lookout for unexpected possibilities and follow up on them. An employer who is not hiring today may be looking for someone like you tomorrow.
Where: A job lead can come from anywhere, but if you hang out at rodeos, you’re going to meet cowboys. Go where the hiring managers in your field go. This may differ from one field or discipline to another. This is especially true in IT. Try conferences and seminars. Attend association meetings. You can find out about professional communities by Googling keywords or searching LinkedIn groups.
Sharon Boerbon Hanson is associate executive director of Advance IT Minnesota, a Center of Excellence that promotes awareness of and excellence in IT careers in order to ensure career and business success. She has over 25 years experience in marketing and brand-building, and has over 15 years as a resume and interview coach.