Great networking skills have never been more important in finding employment than they are in today’s job market. Despite the recent upswing in hiring, today’s business environment is competitive, and “who you know is still as important as what you know.” Networking does not come naturally to everyone, but in today’s world of social media there are many more options than there used to be.
What exactly does it mean to “network?” A network is a list of contacts comprised of people who know about an individual and his or her company, talents, and abilities. This could be an in-person contact or an online one. It follows that the more people in a job applicant’s network, the greater success they will have finding work within their network that matches their skills. According to Climber.com, 65-70 percent of new employment is gained through networking connections or personal referrals. The Wall Street Journal asserts that a whopping 90 percent of new hires are found through employee referrals.
There are several easy-to-develop skills that will make the job search more productive. A positive attitude always works. People are drawn to others who are approachable and friendly. Smiling and enjoying the opportunity to meet new contacts will ensure that more opportunities become available. Even on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, it is very easy to spot someone who is faking it, either from discomfort or deception.
For those who are shy, another way around their discomfort in meeting strangers is a good “elevator speech”: a quick summary, usually 25 words or less, of who they are or what they do. Those who have taken Dale Carnegie training are familiar with this concept. After introductions, it is always a great idea to ask questions to learn more about a new contact. Most people love to speak about themselves and their jobs. People particularly appreciate it when their name is used during the first five minutes of conversation, assuming it is done naturally.
Make the first move in social situations. The most common phobia is fear of public embarrassment, or speaking in front of strangers. It is little wonder that networking events are stressful for many people. Approaching a group of people is almost always difficult, so a better idea might be to focus on singles and draw them into conversation. A smile and a friendly hello, followed by a positive comment or open-ended question, is a guaranteed conversation-starter. Zig Ziegler was quoted as saying, “You don’t have to be interesting. You just have to be interested.” Great listeners generally make the most positive impressions in social situations.
Set a networking goal each week, particularly during the job hunting process, and work to meet it. The goal might be as simple as a certain number of new linked in connections, or a new social media platform to learn. Creating a network these days is not a 9-to-5 job. The opportunities to make new contacts are endless. People frequently think of networking only at events such as Chamber of Commerce meeting. Some of the most productive contacts come from chance encounters…in the grocery store, at the ball park, in the doctor’s waiting room or at a party. A great way to think of networking is “whenever and wherever there is another human being, there is an opportunity to network.”
An influx of large amounts of contacts can quickly become unmanageable – it is very easy to lose small pieces of paper like business cards or Post-it notes. Contact management or communication software like Salesforce, ACT! or Outlook works well to keep contacts in a single, searchable location, plus they allow reminders and other triggers to be set for follow up. Research shows that only 20 percent of sales leads are ever followed up – that is an amazing 80 percent of potential opportunities that are lost. In the job hunt, it is a bad idea to simply give out cards at an event: Requesting the other person’s information, then taking the initiative to contact them is the way to go. That habit of capitalizing on every opportunity to connect tells a potential employer that “this is a good one!” Employers love to hire personable, detail-oriented people.
The lost art of the thank you note. There are many schools of thought on thank you notes. Should they be sent via snail mail or email? Is it better to type them or write them by hand? However the note is sent, it is important to mail it within a day of the interview. The handwritten thank you note is such a lost art that typically sending one makes an applicant stand out in a positive way to potential employers. Emails are easily lost and are not recommended by most recruiters. One last great tip on thank you notes: In addition to sending one to the potential hiring manager, the applicant should send one to every person they interviewed with.
The notion of being finished with networking is like “eating once and for all.” Contacts move, change companies and pass away. Nurturing existing contact networks is a vital skill, but to follow up with a new influx of great people is the second most important ingredient to success, both in searching for jobs and keeping them. The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.
By Jenny Hansen