In my career mobility and job search strategy coaching work with job seekers, relationships and networking are always prominent topics in our discussions. They also happen to be two of my favorite ingredients to talk about in a job search recipe that produces a successful job search outcome — landing the right position!
The most common elements in a job search are the necessary foundational tools which include a well-written, accomplishment-based resume, a compelling cover letter that lends context to the resume and speaks directly and specifically to how your experience will solve a problem the employer has and, finally, a professional online presence. These are critical elements, but for job seekers relying solely on these three pieces, they will quickly realize their job search is lacking the acceleration it needs to land them in front of the right people to discuss the roles they are most interested in pursuing. It is widely known that referrals are the most effective way of securing a job. So how do you get referred?
This is where relationships and networking come in.
Routinely I hear from job seekers, “I am on LinkedIn. I have a ton of people in my network.” Only after I delve into this statement do I realize there is often a flawed notion of what a real network is. I recall a conversation I had with a colleague where she stated, “A good network is people helping each other solve their problems.” I have repeated this statement every time I discuss networking and relationships. The funny thing about networks is, frequently people do not give a thought to their network until they need something. That something is usually a new job. It is at this point that it becomes apparent that the job seeker has either a solid network where he or she has been a visible, contributing member who offers value (more on that later) or having one based simply on “collecting” connections of people they barely know. It is in that practice of acquiring meaningless connections that the whole point of networking gets lost.
So how do I build this community where we help each other solve problems?
Too many people just blast out connection requests or accept every request they receive without thinking what the real reason for connecting is. The question I ask myself when I request to connect with someone is, do I have something to offer this person and am I able to articulate to them why it is beneficial to connect with me? Conversely, if someone asks to connect with me, I ask myself if this person has introduced him or herself in a way that I understand why it would be beneficial to connect. Do we work in a similar field and could share ideas? Do we have some mutual connections in common which provide a level of familiarity and a basis for getting to know one another better? Have we perhaps worked for the same employer at one time or graduated from the same college or crossed paths in our pursuits outside of work such as volunteering or hobbies or socializing in the same circles? Most importantly, would I be willing to facilitate an introduction between this person and someone else in my network should he or she request it? Would I advocate or recommend them in some way? If I cannot answer yes to those questions, then it does not make sense to become part of each other’s networks.
Building a network should be an exercise in making decisions on how far you would go for your network. Professionally, a typical scenario that you will encounter is a person in your network asking you to introduce them to someone connected to a job for which they are interested. At this point, your reputation could soar if you know this person is talented and an excellent candidate to fill an open job slot and you have provided an introduction. On the flip side, your reputation could suffer if you do not know anything meaningful about this person, you recommend them and they turn out to be someone you wouldn’t want to be associated with. It is for this reason that it is important to think about whom you invite into your network. If you are not familiar with them (or willing to become familiar with them) and not willing or comfortable to help them in some way, then it does not make sense to connect.
But I need a job!
I always recommend to job seekers that I am working with to do outreach to their networks when they are looking for a job. Make the trusted people in your network aware of this impending career move. Your inner circle who knows your character, work ethic and talents will be instrumental in helping make inroads for you and taking the resume, as mentioned earlier, and getting it into the right hands with an introduction. However, it is worth noting that the results of this outreach will vary. You will notice I referred to reaching out to the trusted people in your network. That description is in direct contrast to those connections you have made by just “collecting” as many connections as you can find. That person you are connected to, with whom you have never had a conversation or meaningful exchange of any kind, and whom you do not “know,” is not going to advocate for you or go out of his or her way for you.
Building and nurturing your network is an ongoing pursuit.
Tapping into your network only when you need something is the quickest way to alienate the members and devalue the community. It is a very worthwhile pursuit that will pay dividends over the span of your career to approach network building with the guiding principle of helping others solve problems and being visible on an ongoing basis. If your network sees you as someone who contributes value to the network and gives more over the long haul than what is expected in return, then you are doing things the right way. It is also important to note that anytime you are asking something of your network, you are offering something in return.
Here are some ways to contribute.
- Have you come across a job posting that is perfect for a connection? Send it their way.
- Have you read an article or watched a video that would be interesting to a person based on their industry or personal passion? Pass it along.
- Are you well versed on a topic and sharing your knowledge regularly for the benefit of others? You will get a reputation for being informed and involved and being generous by sharing your learnings.
- Are you facilitating introductions between people that you think would benefit from knowing each other even before being asked? You get extra points for this one.
- Do you recognize your connections’ achievements privately or publicly? People feel validated when they are noticed for work they have done.
- Do you engage with your connections’ content or updates that they share? Join the discussion!
You’re in it for the long haul but it is not too late to start!
I work with job seekers of all experience levels in my coaching practice. Some are very natural at building, nurturing and growing their networks. Others are learning to put into motion the valuable actions that make a network a thriving community. I am delighted when I see the light bulb go off with people who previously weren’t as informed on how to do this “whole networking thing” but start approaching it differently and begin to see positive results. My hope is that some of this resonates with you and inspires you to put a plan in motion to strengthen your own growing network. It is never too late. Moreover, like all successful and healthy relationships, the more you give, the more you will receive in return.
Here’s to a new year filled with connections, old and new, where each one is helping others solve their problems. That is my favorite definition of a networking community.
Happy New Year!