Networking is something that most people do not particularly enjoy, and for the job-seeking veteran, it may seem borderline horrific. The word often brings to mind images of crowded rooms, countless handshakes, and people racing to see who can collect the most business cards--not the most pleasant of scenarios.
So can you get away without networking?
In short, no.
Especially for the job seeker, many jobs are never posted online. They are instead listed internally within the company and require some sort of contact within the company to be discovered.
Networking does not have to be gruesome activity, however. It can be a small get-together, or even an event or class that you previously had signed up for. Anytime you are meeting and sharing information with new people, you are networking.
Creating a list of social contacts does not have to be difficult, though for veterans, it may involve stepping outside of some comfort zones.
To help alleviate some of that pre-networking anxiety, here are four tips for successful networking during the job search:
1. Forget Your Agenda
When looking for a new career, it can be easy to get obsessed with the job search. While networking can lead to fruitful connections, and even job interviews, it is important to not go into a social situation with the idea that you are there to land a job. Meeting with friends, and even socializing with strangers is very different from an interview setting, and as such, requires different behavioral etiquette.
As this helpguide.com article points out, the most important thing in establishing a connection during networking is to be an active listener. You want your new contact to feel appreciated, and to feel that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Try to focus your attention fully on the other person, avoid interrupting while they're speaking and taking care to show interest and engagement in the conversation.
You may walk out of a social engagement with no direct leads on jobs, but don't discount those conversations you had. You never know when a new opportunity will appear, and building new relationships certainly will help to facilitate those opportunities.
2. Quality over Quantity
Networking events often feel like a race to see who in the room can collect the most cards. However, having 50 business cards that belong to people that you barely spoke with is not going to prove particularly helpful in building your network. Focus instead on having meaningful and engaging conversation with just a handful of people at every social event.
An Inc article, titled Networking for Dummies, adds that,
" Getting a business card is only a first step. For a contact to become a true part of your network, you need to engage them. That means participating in some back and forth conversations after the event."
Be sure that if you make plans to follow up, that you do within two weeks of meeting the professional. You want your connection to still be fresh in their mind.
If you consider yourself to be an introvert and find social events intimidating, try volunteering at one instead. This will give you a task to do, so that you don't feel as if you're wandering around aimlessly, and feel less awkward attending alone. Volunteering is usually free and offers almost the exact same opportunities for networking. You may find it easier to connect with other volunteers, since you're all doing a similar task, and some of the volunteers may be working in a field or company that you're interested in.
As touched upon in point 2, it is important to do more than collect business cards. Once you've received someone's card and connected with them on LinkedIn, your work is only beginning. Try to shoot them a quick email a day or two after the event, thanking them for the conversation and for speaking with you. Keep the message short but appreciative, and try to end with an invitation to coffee or lunch at a later or date, or setting up a phone call to carry on your conversation.
It is important not to ask for a referral at a company immediately. You want to foster a relationship and truly develop a connection with the professional. When you feel comfortable enough to ask for a favor, helpguide stresses that you should ask for advice, not a job. If your contact trusts you, they may share an open job opportunity, but never put someone in an awkward position where they may have to turn you down.
There are many more valuable pieces of advice to successful networking during the job search, but the four tips listed above will help to guide you through your next networking opportunity. Remember to always keep an open mind and focus on making connections with a wide range of people, not just those who you think can immediately help you.