A professional network can be defined as people you know who can provide leads, support and advice about your career and the job market. Networking is your ability to make contact with the people you know in obtaining research, information, and services about career fields, organizations, or job industries in order to enhance your career goals. Visibility and information is the key to networking and finding that brand new job that can turn into a rewarding career. It is these relationships that will help you in all types of career development to include a successful career search. The benefits of networking include learning more about career options, increased visibility within your field, propelling your professional development, finding suitable mentors, increasing your chances of promotion and perhaps finding your next job.

Your network is all around you, added to daily by the people you know or meet. Your network includes everyone you come in contact with, acquaintances you meet at parties, colleagues at business conferences you attend, friends of friends, new neighbours on your block and, in today’s online market, even people in newsgroups, email mailing lists, or chat lines, many of which will be focused around a particular field, career industry, or business trend. A network consists of relatives, friends, colleagues, previous employers, organizational leaders, professional/social organizations, university/alumni contacts, and any relationships in your life that you may have contact with, whether in a business setting or personally. The focus of networking is to meet many people in your field and find out more about the jobs they do. Networking etiquette requires that you do not ask for a job.

Networking is an important business tool. Its primary focus is developing relationships through interpersonal communication. Networking occurs in numerous and a variety of ways. Have coffee with your neighbour at the local donut shop and discuss how his or her children are doing in school or have your best friend’s father introduce you to helpful industry leaders within his organization. Attend monthly meetings at the local Chamber of Commerce and find out what new industries are coming to your area or plan a lunch meeting with older alumni to learn more about a career in social work.

As a business owner or a job seeker, it’s important to remember that networking doesn’t just take place at conferences and networking events. Consider everybody to be a possible network contact. Network with everyone you get a chance to speak with. Few of the many sources to consider when developing a networking list are, organizations near where you live or go to school; members of clubs, religious groups, and other organizations to which you belong; former bosses and your friends’ and family members’ bosses; professors, advisors, coaches, tutors; clergy members; friends’ parents, and other family members; extended family members; college alumni associations and career office networking lists.

Start by networking with people you know such as family, friends, faculty, students, community members, service professionals (doctors, dentists), alumni, and neighbours. Talk to them about what you want to do. Ask whether they know of any companies or organizations doing the types of things that interest you. Do they know of anyone in a related area of work or study who you might talk to? They are also the same people who may know someone in the key role of decision making or may be a decision maker themselves. They can help you tap the vast majority of jobs that are never advertised. The best person to give you a reference is one who knows how you work, how you relate with other people, and/or how you communicate with others. You never know where your next great contact or client may come from.  You must always be prepared to tell your story, tell it well, and tell it often. For this reason, networking needs to be an integral part of your job search.

Write a letter, email, or call your contacts and ask for a 30 minute conversation. Emphasize that you are not seeking employment. You are not asking whether they have a job opening. You want them to share their knowledge with you in order to set you in the right direction to begin or enhance your career search. The art of informational interviewing is in knowing how to balance your ultimate agenda (to locate a job) with the unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the demands of your field. Never abuse your privilege by asking for a job, but execute your informational interviews skilfully, and a job may follow. Simultaneously, appear as someone with something to offer them.

Contact and keep in contact with individuals that you know. In your networking efforts, set up informational meetings or interviews, where you learn about them, their roles, and obtain valuable advice and referrals. If you don’t know anyone in the room, position yourself in a high-traffic area, e.g., bar, buffet table. Pairs of people might be involved in private conversations, while three or more people are more likely to widen the circle for you to join in. Never force a conversation with someone that is not interested. Keep conversations on point, short, and sweet. Always approach the experience as asking for advice rather than looking for work. Be courteous and professional at all times, even with your aunt’s best friend. Don’t drag a conversation on, while being careful not to brush anyone off. End with an invitation to speak again, or “nice to meet you,” “will be in touch” etc.

I suggest, below, a few networking guidelines and strategies helpful in tapping the hidden job market and to find the best jobs. Networking is, both, an art and a science. Though initially, you may feel uncomfortable about the notion of networking, it is a skill that can be learned and mastered by following these practical guidelines.

Plan. Attend an organised networking meeting or a management training workshop, to begin. Do your homework! Find out all you can about the company, the industry, and the person who has agreed to give you 30 minutes of his or her time. If at all possible, research the company, the industry, its benefits, the hierarchy of the organization, and where this individual fits. The Internet is an excellent source for locating free and convenient information concerning all types of companies. The more you know about the company, the more organized and prepared you will seem.

Track your network. How you track your network will help determine your success. After that networking meet or management training conference, write down the names of everyone you met. Ask for a business card and offer yours in return. Upon receiving the card, read it quickly and comment on the design of it or the business location. Keep the business cards you are receiving separate from your own. Don’t put the business card in your wallet or in your back pocket. If it is inconvenient for this person to meet during the day, ask for a breakfast meeting or a time after work. You never know when these individuals might be able to help you and when you might be able to help someone else with your own experiences and industry knowledge. You do not want to waste your contact’s time.

Look the part. Look impeccably the part. Take note of what people in your industry or level of achievement are wearing and dress appropriately. Dress accordingly. If you do not know, always dress up. Be sure your clothes are spotless and fit you well. Do not smell of cigarette smoke or heavy perfume or cologne. You never know who might be allergic to what. Get a manicure. Wash behind your ears.

Make your mark. Make your mark in the job development timeline. Many are reluctant to visit a company unless there is an actual job opening advertised however, jobs do not develop out of thin air. If you step into the picture early enough in the process there will be no need to advertise a job opening. Thanks to networking, you can be the sole candidate considered which is particularly true of small to medium companies where a majority of job growth occurs, today.

Know what you want. Set realistic goals and commit yourself to them. Build and use your network to help you attain your goals. Know what you want out of the conversation. While introducing yourself, briefly explain what you or your business does. Know what to say when someone asks you what you do. Set goals for the meeting and evaluate whether those goals are met at the conclusion of the meeting. Are you there to brainstorm about how someone with your background can add value to this organization or others in the industry? Are you looking for referrals to other people in that same company? Know what you expect to gain out of your meeting and work to obtain this information. If you do not know the contact directly, mention the individual you know that knows him or her. Perhaps he or she is the parent of your best friend or the boss of your neighbour. Begin the conversation with small talk about this person and then get right to the point.

Show the right stuff. Be honest with yourself and determine where you are now, where you want to be, and set achievable goals. Look for ways to show how your mind works rather than just telling about your past or future plans. Try to get the conversation focused on problems that need solving and unmet needs that need to be addressed. Demonstrate the value you can add to the industry or specific organization. This can help you appear as a potential hire or make you more appealing as someone to refer on to other colleagues.

Use power questions. Review the questions to consider during the networking conversation. Truly engage your networking partner by asking powerful questions. Wow him or her with questions that show what you know but avoid doing all the talking. Like interviewing, spend a considerable amount of time carefully listening.

Name drop. Always have plenty business cards on hand and easily accessible. Ensure your name badge is visible and easy to read. Be a name dropper. If you can, help others remember your name, e.g.,   Samuel Greene, like the colour with an extra “e.” If you are interested in gaining an onsite visit with a person at a company you target, be sure to find someone who will pave the way for you. This means find a friend or a friend of a friend who has a good working or personal relationship with a possible decision maker or industry leader. Instantaneously, a common reference is created. After the meeting, make sure to send the individual a thank you note, handwritten preferably. Make sure to include two of your business cards, one for the person who opens the thank you note and one for your contact. Keep the individual’s name in your contact file and become creative about additional reasons to meet – if there is more information to gain here or you think the situation can ultimately lead to a job.

Find reasons to return. Ask others what they do, and how it can help you or your business (somebody out there has what you need). Ask them if they would like you to keep them updated periodically on your job search efforts. If this is the company of your dreams, consider writing and sending a proposal that addresses the needs you believe you can meet to improve the bottom line. Demonstrate your enthusiasm, but do not kill your chances by appearing too hungry or needy.

Pay back. Don’t waste resources; give without expectation. Give something back to your networking companion. Ask questions like: “What can I do for you?” which will in turn return the question to you. That will give you an opportunity to explain what you do. “Pay the person back” for his or her time. Is there something you can give back in exchange so that the person can actually be grateful, the conversation took place? Is there information you have that would help this person excel on the job or something to enrich his or her life? Share your knowledge. Practice random acts of kindness toward your contacts.

Say thank you. Listen carefully. Stand tall, shake hands firmly, and make eye contact. During the conversation, thank the individual for taking his or her time out to meet with you. Always thank those who made time for you. You may not have closed a deal, but you’ve opened a door. Thank them for their contribution to your tasks at hand and especially for the information concerning the specific field they shared. Remember, yours and their time is valuable and they are offering advice free of charge.

Commit to meeting two people a day. The more visible you are, the more job opportunities will come to your attention. Set up meetings with friends, industry leaders, referrals, or potential employers. Two people a day means 10 a week or 40 a month. The more actively involved you become with the networking process the better your chances of landing the job of your life.  After the conversation evaluate how it went. Learn from each meeting you schedule and take that knowledge to the next meeting. Review these tactics, often, and develop your expertise to find the job you want and the future you deserve.

Networking is like dating. A date does not guarantee marriage. This is the first time you and your networking companion have met. Do not expect a marriage proposal on the first date. Do not think of your conversation as a failure if you leave without a job offer that is not why you are there. Mention the possibility of getting in touch in the future (be sure to follow up).Your main objective is information exchange. Relationships occur over time. Build your network on information, not status.

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