Now that you’ve narrowed down the type of employment you’re looking for, the general kind of job you’re interested in, and may have found some possible leads, you’re ready to get interviewing. But sometimes getting the interview takes more work than just sending your resume through an online system.
Networking, at its core, is collecting a roster of people with whom you share interests, experience, and/or skills, and who one day might be in a position to help you by sharing opportunities—a favor you should be prepared (and willing!) to return. Networking is not getting your name in front of faces, nor is it about quantity of leads. The best networks are built through careful curation of people, with whom you’ve built relationships. You should like the people you keep in your network.
I’m planning to go in-depth into networking in the future, but for now, I’d like to start with helping you figure out where to network. As a job seeker, this can be really difficult: Others have ruined this for you by jumping the gun and asking for jobs from people they barely know, so your path is littered with suspicion and caution from others on it. That’s fine! The key is to show you’re earnest about getting to know the people you’re networking with, and are interested in their work, as well as that you’re interested in possible future collaboration or connection, should it arise.
Don’t ask someone you barely know (or were just introduced to) for a job.
Cool, that’s out of the way. If someone asks what you do, you can say that you’re looking for a position, but unless they ask what you’re looking for/interested in, steer the conversation back to getting to know them instead. You want connections first—the opportunities will come later.
So, where do you go to connect?
This tactic was not around when I was graduating (or if it was, I didn’t know about it/capitalize on it…and, looking back, that seems much more likely), but it’s an incredible resource. An informational interview is meant to give you a window into someone who is already established in your field. It’s easiest for students to organize these interviews, but even if you aren’t a student, professionals usually respond to polite requests for informational interviews on who they are and what they do. Alumni networks are a great way to get in contact with people who might be willing to do an informational interview. Facebook, too, can be a great resource—you’d be surprised how many friends or relatives of friends are working in things similar to where you want to be.
The key for informational interviews is to learn from the person you’re interviewing. Keep the conversation on them, unless they ask you pointed questions about yourself. Even if they do, redirect back to them. Ask about their background, their education and work experience. Ask them for advice and guidance, but throughout the whole interview, be polite and listen. Ask first if you want to take notes, but above all, be a keen listener. Not only will these tips help you on your journey, but an informational interview is also a soft interview for the interviewee: they’re getting to know you and your interests in an informal setting, and if something comes up that matches your skills and experience, they may be able to send it your way. However, that should never be the end goal—in an informational interview, connections and mentorship are key.
Professional organizations for your industry or career type are great ways to meet people in all stages of their career. Usually the organizations will bring people together for social functions, lectures, or activities, and all can be great ways to meet people. These are especially great, because they bring together people who are experts in your field and who understand what you do and the challenges you may be facing. However, they’re higher stakes: Keep in mind these people may be your future employers and coworkers, so keep it professional, especially when alcohol is served.
Do a search for organizations both nationwide and local, and find the chapters operating in your area. For some careers, this may be Meetup groups or hobby interest groups—what you’re really looking for are the local experts who are in the know. They can be your greatest supporters throughout your career.
Conferences for your career or interest are fantastic ways to meet people, but can also be very challenging. Most people at conferences are attending for a specific intention, so meeting and socializing with people can feel impossible, especially for shy people. For this reason, I recommend volunteering for the conferences. Volunteering is a great way to get your name out there—people will recognize you, they have to talk to you, and they see you at work (another form of soft interview). Attendees are often more respectful of volunteers than they are of the typical conference-goer, because you’re both giving up your time to work for them while also acting as an organizational authority. You also get an immediate bonded group of other volunteers, who can form the base of your network, and who can introduce you to others who might help in your career.
Of course, these ideas are just scratching the surface. Have you had luck networking in other capacities? Please let me know!