To network is to develop social contacts with a goal of improving your career. This is crucial in large cities, where the competition for good jobs can be fierce or in smaller towns, where your personal and professional reputation matters.
For most people, networking is a learned skill and not a natural talent. Below you can learn networking for beginners in 7 steps.
Step One: The Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch is your 20-30 second professional introduction. If you’re looking for a job, the goal of your elevator pitch is to tell you new contact who you are and what kind of job you’re looking for. There are many ways to develop an elevator pitch as there are people in the world but the basic idea is to describe what you do, explain what sets you apart, and explain the types of opportunities you’re looking for, and then practice. See links at the bottom of the page for how to write your own.
Step Two: Think of everyone you know
Start with friends, family members, your spiritual community, your volunteer connections, old coworkers and employers, college instructors, or old clubs or associations. Make a list to track who you’ve reached out to, and for heaven’s sake, be polite. If someone has given you information or another connection, make sure to thank them and if possible, send them a thank you card, call, or even email. If their tip gets you a job, or even an interview, be sure to let them know.
Step Three: Networking is two way street
The best way to improve your networking skill is to be a good connection for others. Providing information or putting in a good word for someone you can vouch for makes you a valuable connection and your own network will be more eager to assist you.
Step Four: Socialize
Everyone’s busy, but good networking means planning time to build new connections. Participating in group outings (even recreational rather than professional ones), attending career fairs, and volunteering to help out with members of your network will help build your relationships and strengthen the bonds of your network.
Step Five: Stay in Touch
When you don’t need help from your network, it’s tempting to drop off contact. Similarly, it’s tough to follow up with members of your network you’ve already sought help from, but it’s essential to stay in touch. Set dates to follow up with your network, both when you’re seeking assistance from them and when you’re not. Check in with them. Your goal is to develop friendships and real connections and you can’t do that with people you only speak with when you’re desperate.
Step Six: Use the tools you have
Your resume and cover letter are great tools in your arsenal. Some networkers keep their resume on hand so they can easily pass it off to potential employers. If that seems too pushy for you, you can post on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms that you’re interested in new job opportunities. The very best tool is LinkedIn and setting up a free personal account will allow you create an easily shareable resume and connect with people you’ve just met (as well as old connections) that you can add to your professional network.
Step Seven: Don’t exploit your network
Perhaps the most important aspect to networking is for you to respect their time, energy, and reputation. Don’t blow off job tips, even if you don’t think their suggestion would be a good fit. Reply politely and follow up with the job lead whenever possible. The worst thing that could happen is that you attend an interview and learn that you were right and that you don’t want the job.
Don’t nag or beg your network, or put pressure on them to help you. Your network will remember being treated poorly and will be unwilling to assist you again. Reciprocate any assistance they give you whenever possible. Say please and thank you, and put it in writing if you don’t know the connection intimately. Follow step five and stay in touch with your network so that you have a real relationships with them rather than only contacting them when you need something. If a connection levies their reputation at work to get you an interview or a job and you don’t take it seriously, they will feel used and insulted.
Networking is a life long skill and it doesn’t come naturally to most people, so it can be intimidating to start, but with practice, you too can become an expert networker.