If active networking is not part of your current job search strategy, it really, really, should be. Today’s economy has left countless job seekers eager for employment opportunities, and employers often experience an overwhelming response to position postings. With so many strong candidates waiting in line, many employers find it easier to fill job openings directly instead of advertising on job boards or with placement agencies. The result? CNN has estimated that 80% of jobs are never advertised and instead filled through networking and employee referrals!
I hope that statistic made you wonder how many job opportunities you’ve inadvertently missed out on. Never ever underestimate the power of your connections during your job search. Networking opportunities exist all around you – not just at professional conferences or business meetings. You never know who might be sitting next to you on the train, or who might share an elevator with you during your lunch break. Show a sincere interest in those around you, as that might just be the seed needed to start growing a mutually beneficial networking relationship.
It might not come naturally to everyone to strike up conversations with near strangers. Just like riding a bike, practice will make perfect. You might choose to start building your networking skills with everyday people who are not intimidating, and then work your way up to professional networking events with higher level executives. You might find this recent Forbes article helpful for finding non-awkward ways to network with others in everyday situations.
In addition to face-to-face networking, social media platforms like LinkedIn have made it near painless to connect with other professionals in your field and even companies that may be on your “Dream Employers” list. By reaching out to your LinkedIn connections you might find a secondary connection to an employee at a company of interest to you. It may count to your advantage to have someone personally advocate on your behalf or at least mention your name during the application process.
Sounds easy enough, right? Not quite. Effective networking is an art form that requires purposeful action and much of your and others’ time. Though it is an important first step, establishing contact is not enough. You must also nurture those relationships by carefully following up to deepen them over time. Here are 10 tips for ensuring that you maximize your follow-up with your networking contacts:
1. Come Prepared
As networking opportunities often arise unexpectedly, you must always prepared. First, don’t dress for the job you do (or don’t) have; dress for the job you want. Though it may not be practical to wear a suit 24/7, do forego the house pants on your way to the store and and instead dress up a little (at least business casual) – just in case. Second, have several business cards ready to share if the situation arises. They don’t have to be flashy or expensive. In fact, companies like Vista Print are very affordable and have simple, professional design options. Business cards should be kept in a carrying case to protect them from folds and creases. Do not carry your business cards in your back pocket. No-one wants to receive a card that you’ve sat on! Finally, create a system for separating your business card from those you receive so that you avoid fumbling. A carrying case might work for this purpose, though a portfolio is another good option. Also, don’t forget your pen!
2. Pay Attention
Make sure you “show up” by bringing your best self and being attentive to those around you. As you converse with potential networking contact(s), make sure to pay attention to details. Try to make a connection between the person’s name, face, and points of interest in the conversation. Address him or her by name several times during the conversation, especially as you part ways. This will not only help reinforce your memory, but also help make you seem genuinely engaged.
3. Get a Business Card
Be sure to exchange business cards before parting ways so that you will have a means to contact him/her in the future. Next generation career expert Lindsey Pollak’s best networking follow-up tip is to ask the question, “I’ve really enjoyed meeting you, and I’d like to keep in touch. What’s the best method to reach you?” before ending the conversation. She explains, “This gives your networking contact the options to: a) Politely blow you off by saying something like, “That’s really nice, but I’m super busy right now. I enjoyed meeting you too and hopefully we’ll run into each other again.” (Translation: I’m Just Not That Into You) or b) Tell you his or her preferred contact method. If the answer is b (and it usually is if you’ve read the situation correctly), once you know where you stand and how to communicate, the rest is easy. Follow up exactly as instructed, and your fabulous contact will be eagerly expecting your communication.” This video is useful for understanding business card etiquette:
4. Take Notes
Take a few minutes afterwards to jot down notes related to your discussion in a notebook or on the back of the business card. Where did you meet this person? What stands out about them? What did you talk about? How might this person be useful to you? How might you be useful to him or her? These notes will help you later as you formulate the follow-up e-mail. Be careful not to write notes on the front of the business card, as this is considered offensive in some cultures.
5. Send a Follow-Up E-mail within 24 Hours
Effective follow-up shows your appreciation of your networking contact’s time and helps build ongoing relationships. Make sure to follow up swiftly and promptly. The rule of thumb is to send a thank you note within 24 hours either via e-mail or snail mail. E-mail is most effective if the person is a traveling recruiter, as they may not get mail regularly. Work to personalize correspondence to each of your contacts, thanking them for their time and highlighting continued interest in the topic around which your networking revolved. Also discuss any follow-up steps and how the person might be of assistance to you (names of additional contacts, job leads, etc) and vice versa. You may find examples of effective follow-up letters here.
6. Turn to Google & LinkedIn
Though not optimal, accidentally misplacing a business card after a networking opportunity or neglecting to ask for one is not always a complete disaster. If you paid attention during the conversation, you should be able to remember a few key points that would help you track the person down on the internet. For instance, remembering the name of their employer might lead you to find their contact information on a company website or even LinkedIn. Doing a Google / LinkedIn search after a networking opportunity is generally a good idea, as it will help you to learn more about the person. This Forbes article offers effective (and non-creepy) ways to “stalk” people on LinkedIn.
7. Don’t Forget to Connect on Social Media
If you first connected in-person, don’t forget that following-up could also entail connecting with him/her on professional social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter. When doing so, forego the generic “I’d like to connect with you” message. Instead, add a personal touch by referring back to your conversation. Equally important, when someone chooses to connect with you in this way, take the time to thank them for their “follow.” This extra step can leave a lasting positive impression. To illustrate, I was very impressed by Chris Perry (@CareerRocketeer) because he took the time to send a direct message to me after I started following him on Twitter. The message read, “Thank you so much for connecting with me! I look forward to serve you in your career search and development! – Chris Perry, Career Rocketeer.” Chris and I have never met. Having had a preliminary conversation with your networking contact, you have the opportunity to write a personalized message that will help you be remembered!
8. Stay Organized
As you expand your network, be sure to organize your contacts. Start a spreadsheet where you keep track of the name of the person, where you met him/her, what you spoke about, where he/she works, what he/she is interested in, how you might be able to be of benefit to him/her in the future, how he/she may be able to help you, who he/she connected you with, when you followed-up, etc. It might also help you to use a business card organizer or even a business card scanner to catalog your contacts.
9. Ensure That the Relationship is Mutually Beneficial
Be careful not to make the networking relationship all about you, as that is a surefire way to lose a potential networking contact. Be interested in them – genuinely interested – and focus on building a two-way relationship. Inspirational Career Coach Margaret Carman stresses the importance of being “nonjudgemental about the potential value of a new [networking] relationship and act in a spirit of openness and abundance.” Take time to ask questions related to their interests, career path, the things they like/dislike about their job, and advice they might have for new professionals. Also remember that networking relationships should be mutually beneficial, so try to be helpful to them as much as they are helpful to you. “Ask people what is one thing you could take off their plate — 5/10 times, they give you something and that helps build your credibility and reputation,” says Career Coach Sunitha Narayanan. It might be that you are able to connect them with just the right person for a new project, that you could pass on an interesting article relevant to their interest area, or that you could recommend a great restaurant. However small the opportunity, be eager to invest in their success as much as they have in yours.
10. Check In Periodically (and Don’t Be Pushy!)
Effective follow-up does not end when you send a thank you card. “Keep your networks in your mind in a purposeful way -not because you are looking for something for yourself, but because you genuinely want to be aware of ideas/opportunities that you could pass along,” advises Sunitha Narayanan. Work to nurture and maximize your networking relationships by checking-in with your contacts periodically to update them about developments in your job search/career and to show continued interest. Though it is important to remain genuinely interested and eager to be helpful, guard against coming on too strong. You want your contacts to stay invested in your success, so respect their time and maintain professional boundaries. An employer that I have collaborated with has advised students to back off after two follow-up attempts with no response (Translation: I’m Just Not That Into You). Despite the most sincere intentions, an overly aggressive follow-up strategy could be completely off-putting and counter productive.
These tips should get you well organized for following up with your networking contacts effectively. Remember that just about any everyday moment could potentially be a valuable networking opportunity. In a Forbes article earlier this month, Career expert Nicole Williams also encouraged job seekers to make connections with people in and around everyday life – while walking your dog, riding the bus, or standing in line at the coffee shop. “Who knows who they know and if they have an opportunity for you?” she said. So… get to it! Who can you start building a relationship with today?
Happy networking, friends!
Tagged with: career success • competitive market • economic climate • follow-up • forbes article • hidden job market • interpersonal skills • job search • job seekers • linkedin • meaningful relationships • mutually beneficial • network with others • networking • networking opportunities • networking skills • position postings • professional • thank you card
Filed under: Career Development
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