The value of a good network, it’s not just a necessary evil
At some point during their career, every professional is faced with the challenge finding a new job. Oftentimes this is a scary and challenging moment in one’s life and starting a search for this job often has more questions than answers. The initial steps that most job seekers take are posting their resume to the big career Web sites and searching the Sunday paper; however they often overlook their most valuable job search tool – their network.
While the old adage may be “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” that is only the beginning of tapping into the potential power of your network. The second half is learning how to work your network and build connections that can lead to a new position.
So where do you begin? Following these simple steps will have you maximizing your network’s potential in no time.
To get started, contact a few close contacts from both your professional and personal lives and ask them for an introduction to some of their contacts. After an initial introduction, ask them for 15 minutes of their time for a professional meeting and advice, being mindful of their schedule. This can be at their office or in an informal setting over a cup of coffee or lunch.
Prior to each meeting, take the time to research the person that you will be speaking with. Not only does this show them that you are interested in them and what they do, but it will also lead to other conversational topics.
During the meeting, you should also bring your resume and ask the contact what they think as well as any advice they may have to make it more appealing. This is not a job audition, so it is important to refrain from selling yourself for a position within their company. During the meeting is also a good idea to ask them if there is anyone in their network of professionals that you should speak with.
An important closing point for these sessions is to ask the person that you are meeting with what you can do for them - whether it is giving them a name within your network or offering expertise on a certain topic. Following the meeting, make sure to send a handwritten note to the person that you met with to show them that you appreciated their time. Email may be convenient and easy, but a devoting the time to write out a note will help establish a sound footing for your relationship in the future.
Tools of the trade
While many people see the job search and networking as important pieces to attaining a job, they often forget that networking is a full-time job - one that goes on constantly whether employed or not. And like any job, networking requires a number of tools that are crucial to success in building a professional network and all are readily available online at a low cost.
The first item that you should have at your disposal is a personal business card. These are an essential part of B-to-B meetings as well as networking events. In past meetings, you would be able to hand out your card from work, however while job searching – even if still employed - it is something that you should avoid. Business cards are relatively cheap and can be attained easily online or at office superstores. Pertinent information that should be included on these cards is home and cell phone numbers as well as a personal email address. Your email address should sound professional, for example JSmith@hotmail.com is more impactful than Joedaman@aol.com.
While Web 2.0 may have seemed liken initial fad that would fade or stay relevant for a younger generation, it has fast become a useful tool and is a widely accepted networking tool. One site that stands out as a leader in social networking sites is Facebook (www.facebook.com) many companies have their own networks of employees who are connected to clients and vendors as well as fellow employees. Your page should be professional and also listing past jobs and accolades as a virtual resume. You can also boost your visibility by joining groups for your particular skill set (groups range from direct marketing associations to technical code writers).
With the addition of Web 2.0 to your network, keeping track of everyone can become tricky, especially if you are balancing your network between multiple email addresses. Electronic communications has made the Rolodex obsolete with the need to access contacts at any hour of the day, anywhere in the world. LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is a site that has made managing all of your contacts easy and constantly accessible. The site allows professionals to post a resume, connect with one another, expand their network, post jobs and ask questions on business advice.
Treeing out your network
Each meeting and networking event attended will help you grow your network. However, network building does not just have to occur in the professional world, there are people that you interact with on a daily basis that can help you professionally.
For example every time you drop your children off at school or a party, speak with their parents and see what they do professionally. You can network with them and members of their network while attending school functions, sporting events and other more relaxed “parenting” situations. The same holds true attending parties and social events with friends and their friends. Sooner or later, you will meet up with someone who is sure to assist your search.
While no one likes having to look for a new job and some may feel uneasy during the process, building a strong network is an easy way to help reduce the tension. The better connected that you become through meetings, social events and other methods, the easier it will become to transition from one position to the next and a shorter time trolling the internet for a position.
So what are you waiting for? Start expanding your network today.
Linda Goodspeed is the manager of marketing recruiting at VistaPrint, the small business marketing company. For more information on VistaPrint and the small business marketing materials the company produces, log onto www.vistaprint.com.
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