Meriam-Webster defines networking as the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. Do you have a network? Is it the kind of network that could help you solve a problem, find a new job or make contact with the right person to open the right door?
Many people stick to their usual circle of work colleagues and friends. They don’t actively seek out new contacts or plan a strategy to meet specific people in specific roles or companies. Then, suddenly, their world changes and they find they are without the contacts needed to help them land on their feet.
This happened to me in 2015. I was working for a wonderful company in a job that brought me great personal fulfillment and made a difference in the world. Then suddenly there was an unforeseen downturn in the industry and an unexpected layoff. I found myself without a job for the first time in my life. I have worked since I was 14 years old. I have not had to look for a job since I got out of college many years ago. This was a very new chapter for me.
I was fortunate to work with a coach who helped me develop a “plan of attack” and start networking right away. I quickly discovered that when you are a seasoned professional, networking is how you find a job. Applying for jobs on line and waiting for someone to contact you doesn’t work. You have to have a network or build one. My jobs had all been regional and then national in nature which left me with a network that wasn’t exactly what I needed when looking for a job locally in a small to medium sized metro area.
The first step is to set goals of how many people you want to meet with in person each week. I set a goal of 6 – 8 as I was unemployed and looking for a job was my fulltime job. Then, set up a way to track your progress and record outcomes so you can keep up with any follow up and thank you notes after each meeting. I also came up with a template of what I wanted to share in each networking meeting so I could make sure to keep them to 30 minutes or less. Most people are willing to give you 30 minutes of their time. When you set up a 30 minute meeting you must stick to that timeframe or you will form a potentially bad impression right from the start.
At the end of each meeting, ask for referrals to other people who might be willing to meet with you who have a connection to your chosen field or area of expertise. The contact you are speaking with may give you other names and contact information but it is ideal if they make an introduction for you via email which provides you with a warm lead.
I was surprised to find that 95% of the time, people I contacted for networking were willing to meet with me. They were gracious with their time and most gave me referrals to some of their contacts as well. The added benefit here is that it is fun to network and meet new people. I have never been so informed about the good things going on in my community and the people making them happen every day. There are so many good people out there.
The moral of this story is “always be networking”. Don’t wait until you have to network to get a job. Form your network now, while you have a job and continue to expand it on a routine basis. Set a goal to meet with 1 new person each week, over coffee or lunch and track your progress. You just never know when you might need a network of people who have met you, seen your resume, know your background and can mention you to the right person to get you to that next step. Oh, and if someone calls you for a 30 minute networking meeting, make time for them. You never know when you might be in the same boat.