Professional networking is the building of relationships with business and social contacts to facilitate employment opportunities. Through networking, a job seeker may gain leads about employers and learn about jobs. The more people a job seeker meets and connects with, the more likely he or she is to find a job.
Networking can help a job seeker not only find employment but also develop professional and personal relationships, do his or her job better, advance within his or her organization, and stay current with trends in his or her field. Maintaining a network can also lead to further business opportunities, such as the sharing of information, facilitating access to sales and support services, and gaining referrals from satisfied clients or customers.
Networking is a vital part of any job search and is widely considered the most successful way to find a job. This is due in part to the fact that many jobs are not publicly advertised. One of the few ways for a job seeker to learn about such jobs is through his or her network. As a result, networking can benefit even those attending job fairs, working with recruiters, or applying for jobs through advertisements or online job boards.
At its core, networking is about establishing and building relationships, which can occur in several ways. One form of networking, sometimes called casual networking, takes place when you contact as many people as possible within your social and business circles and inform them that you are seeking employment information. By casting a wide, but casual, net in this way, you may obtain information and leads about job opportunities.
You can also acquire new contacts through focused or targeted networking. After determining your employment goals, you can go to specific events such as meetings, continuing-education training, lectures, and job fairs to network specifically with those who are part of a business or industry. Similarly, your focused networking effort may include joining or attending gatherings for unions, trade associations, and professional groups or volunteering to serve on the board of an organization or nonprofit. You may also attend events sponsored by groups or associations that are intended specifically for networking within a field or industry.
Networking begins when you inform someone that you are looking for employment; for contacts within a business, industry, or field; or for information related to a business, industry, or field. If the person approached is amenable to providing you with assistance, he or she will provide contact information, often in the form of a business card. Anyone can be approached for these purposes. Even the most unlikely contacts can sometimes result in a job, a job lead, or information.
While a networking relationship ideally begins in person, networking can also be initiated and continued by phone, e-mail, or letter. Online networking has become a popular method, but although it is faster and easier than other types of communication, it is also less personal and generally does not have the same payoff. It is often the personal nature of a relationship that makes networking successful. However, using certain websites, such as LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com ), which focuses on building business relationships, can have some professional value.
After adding a new contact to your network, you can conduct a networking interview to gain information, establish rapport, and ask the new contact questions. It is important to remember, however, that networking does not always result in straightforward assistance. Even if a new contact cannot help you directly, the contact may be able to provide you with the name of someone who can. You should find out if the new contact will allow his or her name to be used when you approach
potential employers within the contact's network. A new contact may also be willing to write or speak to others on your behalf or even introduce you personally to employers or other key figures in an industry.
Even after gaining employment, you should maintain the contacts you established through networking and should take the time to not only thank them for their help but also keep them informed of your career progress. Such networking relationships can have long-term value and can further career development for both parties.
In building a professional network, you can approach friends, family, acquaintances from educational experiences, former colleagues, and previous employers. Business contacts, service suppliers, clients, and people met through training or trade fairs can also provide potential networking contacts. Although it is possible for any contact to provide a successful job lead, the more powerful and influential the contact, the more success you are likely to have in your job search.
You can acquire new contacts by searching out opportunities to meet and talk to people who will expand your contact list. This can be accomplished by joining professional organizations, volunteering, and contacting recruiters. Furthermore, almost any professional event can be an opportunity for networking. Business conferences, trade fairs, job fairs, and company open houses can all provide networking possibilities. Networking is not limited to professional environments; social gatherings for companies and trade organizations are also potential networking venues.
Colleges, universities, and alumni associations can also be good sources for networking. You do not necessarily have to be affiliated to take part in networking events. Many colleges and universities host events open to the public and list them on the school's website. Alumni association websites also can provide further information on networking and other events where you might make connections.
Online networking is less effective overall than face-to-face networking but can still be beneficial to job seekers. Networking can take place in online forums, such as Business Advice Forum (http://www.businessadviceforum.com ), where topics related to a business or industry are discussed and useful information is shared among those facing similar business challenges. There are also specialized networking websites, such as LinkedIn, Biznick (http://www.biznik.com/ ), E.Factor (http://www.efactor.com/ ), and Ryze (https://www.ryze.com/ ), that focus on facilitating business-to-business relationships, helping businesses, and connecting people.
Networking is generally considered the best way to gain employment and find information that might lead to employment. According to Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin in the book Earning (2011), 60 percent of jobs are filled through networking. As reported in T+D, a 2011 study by the career-management firm Right Management found that 41 percent of job seekers gained new career openings through traditional, face-to-face networking, far more than any other type of job search.
A job seeker who networks tends to be successful because of the relationships created, which can provide access to unadvertised jobs and to consideration for jobs that might not be accessible otherwise. For example, you may not meet all of the criteria listed in a job posting. However, contacts with knowledge of the job opening may offer insight into whether you might still be a good fit for the position, and they may have ideas about how you could market yourself for the position. Alternately, a contact might be able to arrange an interview for you despite your lack of qualifications on paper.
Although networking has many positives for a job seeker, there are some drawbacks. For instance, networking involves relying on other people to find a job or job leads. You can create positive relationships through networking, but you cannot make anyone give you a job, an interview, or referrals. Networking also requires substantial time and effort on the part of the job seeker, and it is not always as simple or as straightforward as submitting an application. Additionally, networking is usually only part of a job-search process, so action beyond contact building is often required to get a job.
Networking may not pay off in the short term or even in the long term. You should be comfortable with long-term relationship building to facilitate networking. If you do not have strong interpersonal or organizational skills, networking may be a challenge. You may need to work to gain these skills to support networking efforts.
Whether taking a casual or targeted approach to networking, you should have your résumé or CV (curriculum vitae), basic cover letter, and list of references prepared before attempting to build a network. When meeting a contact who could assist in a job search, having these materials prepared ahead of time will enable you to provide further information to the contact immediately. Before meeting any potential networking contacts, you should also have a computer spreadsheet or notebook ready to organize information about each contact in order to make follow-up easier. The spreadsheet or notebook can include the contact's name, phone number, e-mail, and job title. Further information, such as how the contact helped you, the nature of your communication with the contact, and any actions taken, can also be recorded.
You should also prepare a one-minute oral summary of your career. This summary should include highlights of your career to date, a brief description of the type of work or position you are seeking, and any questions that you have for the contact. You should also prepare questions about the industry, field, or business in general for informational interviews that come about as part of the networking process. Because networking is based on relationships, you should also be prepared to meet people, to talk on the telephone in a professional manner, and to hone your interviewing skills as needed. When attending a professional event related specifically to networking or where networking may occur, you should dress as you would for a job interview.
Networking is generally more successful if it is targeted, and targeting takes research and planning. You should research which events and people will best facilitate a job search. Both the Internet and career resources, such as those found at the local public library, can yield useful information about industries, companies, and specific businesspeople that can be used to target networking efforts. You can also use this research to develop questions for networking contacts.
You should be aware of the reciprocal nature of networking. Networking relationships involve give and take and are typically not just about landing job leads in the short term. Thus, as part of the long-term strategy of commitment, you might be called upon in the future to repay a contact with reciprocal support. For example, if a contact provides you with a lead that results in an interview, you should express gratitude to the contact and offer to provide assistance in any future job searches or business needs.
When you make a contact through networking, you should add the contact's information to a networking spreadsheet or notebook. Within two days of meeting a contact, you should send a thank-you note or email to the contact. Follow-up on any job inquiries should also happen immediately.
When a networking contact has provided you with assistance that leads to a job interview or employment, you should inform that contact about all positive results in a timely manner. You should maintain general, regular communication with contacts gained though networking. This may be done once a month via e-mail or telephone. You should avoid communicating more often than the contact would like, however, and should use the nature of the relationship with the networking connection to gauge the appropriate level of communication. If you have a previous connection with the networked contact or if you need further information on a particular job-related matter, communication may occur more frequently, though usually only for a limited length of time. Calling or e-mailing a networking contact daily is generally considered excessive.