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When you’re hunting for a job, there’s no better shortcut than having an “in” at the company you’re approaching. After all, the business world stands and falls on relationships. If you’re ever felt like all successful people know each other, you weren’t too far from the truth. But what if you don’t know how to start networking?
Once you know the right people, only sky is the limit. But how can you become a member of that “secret group”?
1. Make friends, not networking connections
Would you want to work with someone who only sees you as a networking connection? Probably not. No one wants to be taken as a mere stepping stone on your way to getting what you want. And you probably don’t want to see yourself as a “networker” either.
As the old saying goes: “When money is involved, everyone’s a liar.” As a result, most people in the business sector have developed a keen nose for people full of bull. People want to foster reliable relationships, not utilitarian connections. If you approach people with the latter kind of attitude, you will often come across as disingenuous.
“You already know how to network.”
What’s my advice then? These are real people, just as we are. Always think of them as multifaceted human beings with their own problems and motivations (and then try to help them solve their problems). Don’t forget — you already know how to network. You’ve been building relationships all your life. Now use the same skills to intentionally build relationships with a bunch of highly interesting, creative, and successful people.
- Don’t be all about business. Foster meaningful relationships.
- Be different, upbeat, cheerful, yet professional. Have a good vibe about yourself.
- Make conversations about them, not yourself.
- Know your boundaries. Never hard sell.
- Try to understand their problems first. You’ll learn something valuable and it’ll pay off later.
2. Begin with people you already know
You don’t need to meet new people to start networking effectively. Actually, you probably already know some people who might help you out — even if they don’t work in your target industry.
If you’re a fresh graduate, you can always turn to your friends and family. Since they already know you and trust you, they’re much more likely to help you out than complete strangers.
“…they already know you and trust you.”
Find your university’s alumni database and look for people in your field. Reach out to them and ask them for short interviews to get advice on your career. Since you’ve studied at the same university, you probably have many things in common already. Still, try to find the ones who have background similar to yours. For instance, maybe you’re an expat from the US who’s looking for a marketing job in France. Trust me — if you find someone with a similar story, there’ll be a special bond.
Also, don’t forget about people who have given you guidance before. Perhaps you’ve had university professors who took you under their wings. Or senior co-workers from your last job who taught you a great deal. Update them on where you’re in life at the moment and ask them to meet and catch up over coffee.
Once you’ve reached to the people you already know, you can expand to their acquaintances and finally strangers once the process becomes second nature.
3. When approaching someone new, find a way to help them first
If someone’s worth approaching, their time is probably more valuable than yours. Take Bill Gates, for instance. He earns $114 per second he’s alive. It’s literally not worth his time to pick a dropped $100 from the ground. Imagine the audacity of asking him for 5 minutes of his time.
Even when you’re not approaching the wealthiest man in the world, never assume their time or advice comes free of charge. This could easily close the door for you indefinitely. For this reason, you want to want to provide your network with value first.
“Never assume their time or advice comes free of charge.”
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a fresh graduate or someone with years of experience under your belt. Research the company/person you’re approaching and find something small to contribute. Don’t forget it’s not only about being actually useful, it’s also about making the gesture.
Most importantly, do it without expecting anything in return. If you get rejected anyway, don’t show disappointment. Next time will be better.
In any case, once you’ve established a new contact by providing something valuable, don’t ask for a favour straight away. For the time being, it’s all about them; you need to invest your time and effort first. Don’t worry, it will pay off eventually — sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
4. Follow up. Don’t let your relationships collect dust
Most connections have an expiration date. Some networkers reach out to someone and as soon as they get what they want, they disappear until they need something again. Don’t be that person and keep your relationships alive by reaching out to your contacts regularly. Once you disappear off their radar, you’ll be easily forgotten, the trust you’ve built will diminish, and you’ll have to start again from scratch.
Moreover, you always want to follow up on your previous meetings and emails. Never forget to thank them for their help or advice. If you discussed any further steps with your contact, reaffirm your intention to follow through and thank them specifically for anything they have offered to do.
5. Never ask for a job directly. Ask for advice and information instead.
Why? After all, you might feel like you don’t really need more information. It can even seem counterproductive. Still, when you simply ask for advice:
- You don’t put them in an awkward position. After all, they don’t know you, they’ll naturally hesitate to recommend you for a job. When you’re being too pushy, you destroy opportunities that could arise later down the line.
- You don’t look like you want others to solve your problems for you. When you ask for advice, you make an impression of someone who wants to learn and improve. Most people are eager to help those who are already grappling with a problem on their own.
- They’ll get to know you better. If you show yourself as a likeable and dependable person, they might even recommend you for a job in the end.
This brings me to my last point. As you have probably already figured out, networking is not about getting what you want. It revolves entirely around building a network of inspiring relationships that can lead you to the most unexpected of places. Who knows, instead of getting what you want, you might even get into situations you’d consider too good to be true. That’s the magic of having a network of great relationships.
Few more tips:
- Update your LinkedIn profile. It will be the first place your contact will look once you’ve contacted them. At the same time, LinkedIn is like a speed dating site for professionals. You might get noticed even if you’re not looking for something new.
- Establish new contacts both online and offline. Don’t be just an anonymous email — be a friendly face. On the other hand, don’t forget to develop a robust online presence.
- Don’t limit your outreach to people who are obviously connected to your target industry. This will greatly limit the opportunities you’ll find.
- Don’t be a hater. Don’t say anything negative. Never badmouth your previous employers or colleagues. You’ll be seen as a negative person and quickly dismissed by your potential contacts. Remember that negativity doesn’t build trust.
- Sit with the right company. When you’re at social gatherings, don’t sit with your co-workers and get to know new people. If you never roam outside of your social circles, you’ll never get further than where you’re now.