If you’ve been sitting at a computer shooting out resumes to answer postings on the Internet or thumbing through the newspaper want ads and think you’re doing a good job search, think again. According to the unofficial ramblings of career professionals nationwide, only 10-20% of people get their jobs through postings, while 80-90% of people get jobs through people they know or meet through networking.
Great, so networking is the way to go. But with whom do you network, and what do you talk about when you’re networking? Some say network with everyone, everywhere – with friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances. You’re bound to hit the right person. I might be cynical, or too analytical, or just plain lazy, but it seems to me that you will be working way too hard without a very high rate of return when you network with everyone. Besides, not everyone wants to network with you. Some people particularly dislike it when you disturb them at dinner parties or social engagements with brain-picking questions about people to contact, where to send a resume, and how to dive into a job market. Go figure.
Rather than building a big network with low returns, how about building a focused network with high returns? Interested? Here are some steps to help you get focused.
1. Make a list of all the people and companies you want to work for or with. Dream a little. It doesn’t matter where the company is located or how high up an organization an individual sits. Put people and organizations on your list if they represent your ideal work place, a job you covet, or a co-worker with whom you want to match wits.
2. Gather research on these people and companies. Find out the truth. Who do the people you want to work with choose to work with? Who do the companies tend to hire? What types of skills, knowledge, and attitudes do the people they surround themselves with have? Gather contact information and current and potential job titles while researching. Record information and questions you might like to talk about with a person or a company. Maybe you can't get all the questions you have answered by just looking at a website. Perhaps the company released a new product or service that you want to learn about, an individual earned a work related award that you could talk about, or a company received a national honor.
Researching companies: Ask friends or use the Internet to get information from company websites or from other sites that review companies. Check out what others are saying on www.bizjournals.com or www.congoo.com where you will find all the journal and newspaper articles written about the company.
3. Start a contact log on each person or company you research. Keep notes and chronological information on each person or company. You will be able to use it later when you apply for jobs, meet with network groups, set up meetings, and compare companies. An individual file for each company or person works well too. For each organization, be sure to find a few people with whom you can make contact. You might find that in “about us”, “contact us”, “departments” or other sections of organizational websites. Not on the web? Go to the library. There are computers to use and books with similar contact information.
4. Get the answers you need. Armed with a list of solid questions, you can find out all about the skills, knowledge, and experience you need to work in these companies, alongside these experts and with these co-workers. You can find out how people get in the door, the turnover of employees, and the salary levels. You may learn about trade association meetings that you can attend to increase your focused network or learn about books and journals that are the standard reading matter in this company. You might be able to find a mentor to help you move forward in your career or a new employer along the way. Asking a question is an easy, non-threatening, focused approach to networking with people who can influence your future. But remember, you are there to listen. This is not a time to hog the conversation or start begging for a job. This is a time to uncover what people and companies need so you can come back later and tell them how you can exceed their needs.
5. Follow up with everyone regularly. Start your follow-up right after you meet with people. Send them a thank-you note. Be sure to identify the specific ways that the meeting helped you move forward. If you learned about a new resource, found a network to join, got a new contact, learned new information for interviewing, enhanced your resume, or traded personal development stories, identify this in your note. Explain how you have already used what you got from the meeting, how you will use the information in the future, or what you are looking to learn or do once you use the information gained. If you learned about a need the company has that you can fill, mention that too. Then, continue to follow up with this person regularly. Once a month or every other month, send each contact a note or e-mail asking a question or providing useful information based on what you learned in your meeting. You might even consider setting up a coffee or lunch date quarterly, to just stay in touch.
Focused networking pays off - physically, mentally, and financially. You are out and about exercising your mind and getting fresh ideas rather than packing envelopes with resumes and hoping they will reach a friendly target or punching computer keys to launch your resume into cyberspace. You create resources, mentors, and job opportunities that you might not have otherwise heard about. You find contacts that may turn into your next employer, and you find volunteer opportunities that show off your skills and experience. You focus on individual, company, and industry needs in an arena that appeals to you and you gain valuable information on what each contact, company or industry is looking for in an employee. By using a focused approach to networking, you earn the opportunity to create a job by answering the needs of the people you want to work for and with. Now what could be better than that?