The FINANCIAL — Just like learning how to swim when you are drowning, the worst time to start networking is when you are looking for a job.
At that time, it is highly unlikely that people who you’ve never spent much time with will suddenly decide to help you get a job. Networking is a long-term process, not a quick fix. It is perhaps appropriate to define some other things that are not networking. It is not handing out your business card to as many people as possible. It is not sending your CV to every single company you can find. And it is not talking to someone just because you are trying to get something from them. “You must reach out to others long before you need anything at all”, writes Keith Ferrazzi in his bestselling book Never Eat Alone. Networking is not building superficial connections, but long-lasting relationships with people who you are actually interested in.
In this article, we will use four principles of networking and finding a job to teach you how to build a network and find jobs using that network.
Principle 1: Networking is a continuous process.
As I said before, networking doesn’t start when you are looking for a job. Building a good network is a lifelong endeavour that starts when you are young and that +never stops.
If you are a student, start doing this while you are still in university. Not only make sure that you know your fellow students, but talk to other people at the university who you think are interesting. Don’t be intimidated by big titles or impressive CVs: your professors are paid to talk to you, and the reality is, most of the time, students don’t take the time to do so. By actually showing up to a professor’s office and talking to them, you demonstrate that you care, and that you are a curious person.
If you currently have a job, make sure you get to know people higher up on your organization’s totem pole. Take your boss out to lunch sometime, or get to know your boss’ boss. Don’t make this too formal: a cup of coffee or a simple lunch at a restaurant close to your office will do the job.
If you currently don’t have a job, or even if you are a student, reach out to people who are the industry that you want to work in. If you know someone who knows them, ask them to make an introduction, and then invite them for a coffee chat or something similar. If you don’t know anyone in that industry, you can always try sending a quick e-mail with a request for coffee or lunch. Tell the person that you are interested in the industry, let them know that you’ve heard great things about them, and that you are interested in learning more about what to do. Most people love to talk about themselves, and are willing to give free advice if you ask them for it.
When you are doing all of this, make sure to use a balanced approach. When someone agrees to meet with you, ask them about what they do, and try to have an interesting conversation. Depending on how the conversation goes, you can ask them for a small favor, but this is not the time to start asking for a job: don’t be too pushy. Send a thank you email after the meeting, and a follow-up email once in a while, or even better, a phone call, but don’t become their personal stalker.
On the other hand, when you’ve built a network, don’t be afraid to use it when you really need it. Especially in Georgia, sometimes people are afraid to ask for help. If people in your network don’t even know that you are looking for a job, you are doing something wrong! Make sure that you are reaching out to your contacts to let them know you are in the market for a job, and ask them to let you know about any opportunities that they might have heard about, and ask them to put you in touch with anyone who they think you should talk to.
Principle 2: Reach beyond your normal group of friends — It is very likely that your friends are like you. You probably went to the same kinds of universities, are interested in the same kinds of things, and you may even look slightly alike. People often like people who are like themselves. However, because your friends are like you, and hang out with other people who are also like you, they mostly have access to the same information that you have access to. This is problematic, it is your network that you often have to rely on most when trying to find out about job opportunities. Most of the jobs openings that exist are never published, so the only way you can find out about these jobs is from people you know.
In his famous 1973 paper “The Strength of Weak Ties”, sociologist Mark Granovetter, then at Johns Hopkins University but now at Stanford, found that most people who found jobs did not find out about the job openings from people they interacted with on a very regular basis, so-called “strong ties”, but from people with whom they only maintained sporadic contact, “weak ties”. When we look at shapes of networks of people, we often see clusters of people who have strong ties together, with a few bridges in between the clusters. The people who are on both ends of these bridges are the true networkers, because they provide their entire cluster with new information and contacts from another cluster, because they formed a bridge. These are the so-called “connectors”: connecting people who are in the same group of friends is pointless, real connectors connect people who are in different social circles.
This means that you have to get to know people who are not your friends yet, which requires making an effort to break into different social circles: at work or university, try to hang out with some people you don’t normally interact with, go to events around the city that you don’t normally go to, and revitalize contacts with whom you haven’t talked spoken for a while.
Principle 3: A network takes work — As we said before, networking is a continuous process. However, this does not just mean constantly trying to get to know new people: it also involves maintaining your current network. Networking is not about talking to someone once or twice, adding them to your list of contacts, and then only calling them when you need something from them.
Make sure you call or email your contacts once in a while to keep the relationship warm. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time: it can be a quick note, or a link to an article that may be useful for them. Grab a drink with them. Think about people in your network as friends: you don’t talk to all of your friends every week, but you catch up with them at least a few times per year.
Principle 4: Don’t be afraid to explore non-traditional networking methods — The rise of the internet has given birth to a plenitude of new networking opportunities. Most companies now have a Facebook page, and liking it will keep you up to date on the company’s news and activities. Some companies now even use Facebook to reach out to prospective employees. However, before you start using Facebook for your networking efforts, make sure you have nothing on there that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see, and that your privacy settings are appropriate.
Other commonly used websites are LinkedIn, and its Georgian equivalent mycareer.ge: professional networking websites that allow you to get in touch with other professionals and prospective employers. Make sure your profile is up to date, and reflects who you are, what you do, and what your ambitions are. Use a professional profile picture: not a passport photo or party shot. It is good to market yourself here: don’t write anything that is not true, but make sure there is nothing good about yourself that you leave unsaid. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people on those networks: they are there to talk about professional opportunities.
The way forward — If you implement these four principles, I am sure that you will be a lot more successful in finding jobs, and in your career in general. There are no quick fixes in networking and job hunting: it is a continuous process that takes time and effort, but if you do it right, you will get results. Work on building your network, reach beyond your normal group of friends, and also use non-traditional networking methods to be more successful in your efforts. Go out there and give it a try!