If you think you don't know how to network for a job, you're probably wrong.
Everyone networks all the time. Even at its most base level, any interaction we have with other human beings is networking.
However, you need to know how to network strategically.
If you're new to exploring how to network for a job, there are probably things you can be doing much more effectively to grow your network.
Networking is something you learn by doing.
Therefore, as you learn how to network for a job, you'll naturally grow more strategic in your networking.
What Is Networking?
Networking is the strategy of revealing more opportunities by interacting with other people. When you network for employment, you're strategically interacting with people in a way that can be mutually beneficial for both you and the people with whom you're interacting.
That's not all:
Effective networking begins with the mindset of intentionally discovering and exploring whatever and whoever you may encounter.
When you start to discover how to network for a job, you'll discover that open-mindedness is key.
Why learning how to network for a job is important
In an extensive study, LinkedIn reported the following statistics, based on 15,905 LinkedIn members surveyed:
In 2016, 70 percent of people were hired by a company with which they had a LinkedIn connection
35 percent of professionals surveyed claim that a casual conversation via LinkedIn led them to a new opportunity
25 percent of global professionals established new business partnerships through a conversation on LinkedIn
You mean I have to talk to people?
Some people take to networking like a fish to water.
However, other people groan at having to plaster on a smile and get out there talking to people. Particularly if you're between jobs, the hardest thing in the world may be pretending to be eager to make new connections.
How do you get around that?
Part of this common anxiety of how to network for a job can be alleviated through online networking. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and more can help you with forging connections to people. But, for this, you really can't get around it all the time.
It's likely that you're still going to have to be open to meeting people in person and networking in a social way. Part of learning how to network for a job is becoming more comfortable with being out of your comfort zone.
How do you do that when you are simply not feeling it?
It's as simple as fake it 'til you make it.
In a TED talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy explored this and suggested that while our nonverbal body language governs how other people think and feel about us, likewise, our nonverbals can govern how we think and feel about ourselves.
Watch this excerpt from her TED talk:
That means, you can use your networks effectively, even when we're out of our comfort zones.
First, let's get to the networks you already have.
You Already Have 5 Networks
Whoa. You may be thinking to yourself, "wait, I'm just learning how to network for a job and I already have five networks?"
You do, indeed.
Every single person you have ever known is in one of your five networks. Let's break them down for you:
With an expansive network, you know a lot of people. For many people, this is the only network they have because they're not networking strategically.
Everyone in your expansive network can potentially be beneficial to you because they can help you build your business, deliver hard-to-access resources, and provide you with potentially useful information. Typically, you won't have a strong relationship with most of the people in your expansive network.
Your nodal network consists of people with whom you have a strong and deep relationship.
These people have their own nodal networks and can not only help you themselves but also leverage their nodal networks to help you as needed.
Nodal networks don't need to be large. A few strong relationships are what's crucial.
An operational network consists of people who are directly connected to your industry.
They may be people you've met through trade associations and professional organizations. Also, they can be former colleagues who you interacted with on a professional level only.
The people in your strategic network are people who aren't necessarily directly connected to your industry.
However, they may be leaders in industries that you've interacted with in the course of your career. They can be beneficial for career planning, career change, and as mentors.
Your personal network is the people you know on a personal level. When learning how to network for a job, this group is a great group to practice with.
This group comprises of close friends, friends of friends, fraternity and sorority acquaintances, and social media connections. Also, fellow alumni and former colleagues with whom you've formed a friendship.
To-Do List for How to Network for a Job
Now you know that you already have the tools, and groups of people to network with at your fingertips. That's the start, now to start taking the steps to get you there.
1. Have business cards printed...YOU are your business
It's a good idea to have some business cards printed that have, minimally, your name and contact information on them.
You should include your name, any titles you have (Ph.D., MBA, etc...), your phone number, and email address. Consider also putting the short link to your LinkedIn profile and @username if you're active on Twitter or Instagram.
If you're currently employed, the business cards your employer provides for you are what you should use.
2. Make lists of everyone you know
After reading the section where we discussed different types of networks, you probably began to realize that you know more people than you first believed.
Going from that model, take out a legal pad and make a list of everyone you know. Leave a couple of spaces underneath everyone on your list for their contact info and a note about how they may be able to help you.
Or, if you are spreadsheet savvy, a Google Sheets doc that's available anywhere your browser log-in can go, may be the way to go.
It's helpful to sort them by network: expansive, nodal, operational, strategic, and personal.
3. Reach out to your references to let them know you're job searching
Once you begin job searching, you need to contact your personal and professional references and let them know that potential employers may be contacting them.
Start the conversation with that information, then make a little small talk with them. Ask them about their families, maybe set up a time to get together. Also, you can ask them for any advice they have on how to network for a job in your industry.
4. Beef up your LinkedIn profile
Your LinkedIn profile needs to be 100 percent.
Make sure you have a professional photo and contact info up to date, have your work history and credentials clearly lined out, and a few recommendations.
If you don't have any recommendations, contact some of your former colleagues and ask them if they'd be willing to write one for you.
5. Delete, delete, delete! Start tidying up your online presence
If you're not already done so, now is the time to tidy up your social media presence.
Delete (or hide) your political rants and racy memes and set your Twitter to private. I've even known people who just threw in the towel and completely deleted their profiles, saying that it was just too messy to clean up. Whatever you need to do, get your stuff presentable.
Use Facebook's privacy check feature to limit the audience of your past posts. This will make them invisible to anyone that is not a friend.
6. Optimize your social network profiles (now that they're clean)
Now that you have your social media presence tidied up, get your profiles optimized for networking.
If you removed yourself from groups and pages that reflect poorly on you, it makes sense to add yourself to some that show your best side and your interests.
Also, put up your most professional looking profile photos. Getting a few photos up of you and friends and family is a great idea, too. It shows your human side.
Be sure to change your bios to something that's positive. Also, add relevant work history.
7. Gear up to look your best
Now is the time to get a haircut or style and have your best clothes pressed and ready to go. You need to be looking your best and bringing your A-game. Even if it's an evening or weekend casual event, you need to look your best.
Be prepared to adjust. If you're the only one wearing a jacket, you may want to leave that in the car -- fitting in at the top of the group is where you want to be.
8. Be ready to go 100 percent of the time
Just because you're unemployed doesn't mean you have time to relax.
Every morning, get up and shower and be ready to hit the ground running if a networking opportunity comes up. If someone calls you to meet for coffee, for example, you need to be prepared to say "you bet, see you there in an hour."
This means you'll need to have a few outfits ready to go at all times.
Online Networking and How to Network for a Job
While good old fashioned face-to-face networking has enormous value, in today's career search, online networking is equally important. You can use most social networks for career networking.
However, we recommend putting the most focus on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
While Facebook is mostly social, there are definitely professional networking opportunities available.
Join Facebook groups that are specific to the industry you work in, and follow the Facebook pages of the companies you'd like to work for. Make regular comments on the posts they put up, and if they post an interesting article link, click on it and read it.
Why would that matter, it's social media, not a job fair?
It will help you stay on top of what's going on in your industry. Furthermore, it may even help you meet people from all over the country who do what you do.
Not only that, when they search your social media presence, public comments like those will show up.
When it comes to Facebook, avoid controversy. The news is full of people who made ill-advised career-ending Facebook posts. It's just not worth it.
Think twice before sending unsolicited friend requests. Will they possibly be uncomfortable with you being in their inner circle? Moreover, do you want them in yours, seeing all of your private posts? Go with your gut on this.
Even if you don't spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, you still need a profile there. It takes less than half an hour to set up a good one.
Join LinkedIn groups relevant to your industry and groups that are specifically for networking. Furthermore, send some connection requests to leaders in your industry as well as people at the same level as you.
If there's a company you'd like to work for, try to connect to some of the people who already work there.
Use Twitter in a similar fashion as Facebook. If your real name and photo are on your Twitter profile, you need to behave in a professional manner if you're job searching.
What we said about people screwing up on Facebook applies equally to Twitter. Do you have tweets that haven't aged well? Don't add more.
To use Twitter most effectively, find your industry hashtags. However, don't be too liberal with hashtags. One or two per tweet is all you need to do. You're likely to meet people from all over the world who would enjoy a reciprocal connection.
Networking Events That Matter
Be selective about the networking events you choose to attend. Even if you're not currently working, your time is valuable. Furthermore, you want to meet the right kind of people.
Not every networking event has value.
I'll be honest here. In my years as a workforce development professional, I didn't see a lot of people get jobs directly via a career fair.
However, they are very valuable for networking.
You'll meet representatives from different companies as well as other job seekers in your industry. You can get career fair information from your local career or workforce center.
For finding meetups, your first stop needs to be Meetup.com. Do a search for cities near you that are having meetups related to your industry.
Also, you can find meetup opportunities in local LinkedIn and Facebook groups. However, note that not all events you attend have to be specifically for your industry. You may make valuable contacts at other events.
Image: Public Domain, by U.S. FDA, via: Wikimedia
If you can afford to attend professional conferences, you should continue to do so during your job search. You'll make valuable connections. Furthermore, your attendance will help get the word out that you're active in your industry.
College or sorority/fraternity alumni events
Image: Public Domain, by Watchdogcommittee, via Wikimedia
It's always a good idea to attend events at your alma mater. Also, if you belonged to a fraternity, sorority, or other social organization in college, you can get good job leads and other info by attending their events. Also, your alma mater may have job search assistance available.
Many communities have job clubs. You can find out about these in social media groups, as well as at your local career center. Being a part of a job club is a great way to connect with other job seekers, and a good opportunity to give back as well.
Don't discount the great networking opportunities you have simply by being in the right place at the right time:
- Take your laptop and go to Starbucks or a bookstore to work
- Consider enrolling in a continuing education class at a community college
- Even many community resources like libraries offer free classes on various things
You never know where you might meet a valuable connection.
7 Tips for Effective Networking
Ready to be really effective?
It's about relationships, not resumes
Remember that a networking event isn't a job interview.
As you're going into the event, remind yourself that you're there for the purpose of getting out there and getting to know people. There will be people there who behave as if it's an interview, or as if they're auditioning for something.
However, you're not going to be one of those people because you're networking strategically.
Know your industry's jargon, but don't overdo it
Be sure to brush up on your industry's jargon, but you also must be able to speak in laymen's terms.
When you're networking, you'll be meeting people at all levels in your industry.
Furthermore, you'll be meeting people who may not even be in your industry.
A good guideline:
Speak to people at their level.
Know the jargon and be prepared to pull it out if you're talking to someone who will know what you're talking about.
However, don't whip it out with people who have no clue what you're referring to. It will be off-putting at best, and annoying at worst.
Get contact info, then follow up
When you meet someone at a networking event, ask them for their contact info. They may take your phone and put their number in, or they may hand you a card. Ask them, "what's the best way to contact you?" and always use that method to contact them unless they deviate.
For example, if they say "email is the best way to contact me" and then they send you a text, then you should text them back.
After the event, follow up with them within one to two days. However, don't ask them for anything or try to sell them anything, including yourself.
Say hello and that it was nice to meet them. You can also add "I'd love to have coffee with you if you're free sometime." That's it. Keep it simple.
Be persistent without stalking
Have you ever accepted someone's LinkedIn request and regretted it within a few days because they won't stop bugging you? Don't be that person.
After a networking event, follow up a day or two later with an email or text, depending on how the person indicated they prefer to be contacted. Then give them time to respond to you.
Ask and you shall receive (really!)
Once you've established a relationship with someone, you may find yourself in a position in which they can do something for you. It never hurts to ask (unless you're bugging them).
For example, they may have a connection with someone that you'd like an introduction to. Or they may work for a company that you're interested in working for, and you can ask them for advice on the interviewing process.
Keep your requests reasonable and infrequent.
Ditch any label you've applied to yourself
What labels have you applied to yourself? Shy? Introverted? Fat? Stupid? Unqualified?
A few of those need to be permanently ditched if you've applied them to yourself. However, for the purposes of how to network for a job, you've got to ditch any self-limiting labels you've slapped onto your forehead (or behind your back).
When you're learning how to network for a job, remember this:
Even the most confident, self-assured people you meet may be as nervous as you are, or were when they first started networking. Most of the people you meet are more concerned about the impression they're making than noticing any faults you think you have.
Remember what we covered in a previous section? Fake it 'til you make it.
Whatever label you attached to yourself before, you are now confident, smart, approachable, and qualified.
If you tell yourself often enough that you are these things, you will eventually begin to see the labels for what they are: labels, and not who you are as a valuable human being.
If you see yourself like the image below, so will your potential network. They'll be all to happy to let you stay home. That's not what you want.
Give as much as you receive
Remember that networking is about reciprocity. You need to be as valuable a connection to other people as you'd like for them to be to you. Mutually beneficial networking should be your networking goal.
8 Don'ts for Networking
- Don't look for romance. Industries in some cities are actually a pretty small world. Keep it professional at all times. You could be one embarrassing email away from disaster in your job search.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most people like helping and they want to network just as you do. Furthermore, imagine how it makes you feel if someone asks you questions. Others feel the same way.
- Don't have more than one alcoholic beverage at networking events. Particularly at more informal meetups, it's easy to forget the one-drink rule. Remember, treat it like a job.
- Don't be overzealous with self-promotion. This is a tactic that will annoy more than it helps. Meet people, exchange business cards, and follow up.
- Don't speak to only one person. Branch out and say hello to lots of people. Especially if you tend towards introversion, it's easy to find yourself sticking with the one person who makes you comfortable.
- Don't forget to follow up within two to three days. Remember: don't self-promote in your follow up. Just tell them it was nice to meet them and maybe suggest meeting for coffee sometime.
- Don't be timid. Remember that everyone has some degree of nervousness, and some are more nervous than you are. No one but you will know that you're nervous.
- Don't talk more than you listen. People will remember a good listener, and even if they do most of the talking, you'll leave them with a good impression.
With all of these helpful tips on how to network for a job, there are a few don'ts that you should follow as well. Most importantly, remember that you should treat networking as a job. Be professional at all times.
Maintenance: The Time to Build Your Network Is When You Don't Need It
It's a mantra that can't be over-stressed.
The best time to build your network is when you don't need it.
When it comes to career networking, you need to never allow yourself to fully relax. Even if you're in a job you love, make an effort to attend at least one industry related event or meetup per month.
Follow the same best practices that you learned when you were job searching. Also, make sure you don't neglect your existing network. Remember birthdays and anniversaries, send holiday wishes, and text "congrats!" if you see that they've gotten a new job or position.
Try to make time to have lunch or coffee with someone in your network at least once per month.
Books for Upping Your Networking Game
There is no shortage of great resources for upping your networking game and learning how to network for a job. When you're learning how to network for a job, you need to pull out all the stops.
Here are a few of our favorite books for networking.
- "The Little Black Book of Connections" by Jeffrey Gitomer
- "The 20-Minute Networking Meeting" by Marchia Ballinger, PhD and Nathan Perez
- "How to Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie
- "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi
- "100 Conversations for Career Success" by Laura Labovich and Mirian Salpeter
Now Get out There!
You're officially a networking ninja!
However, remember this: the only way to network is to actually get out there and do it.
We can sometimes keep ourselves pretty darn busy with planning and forget that more than anything, we need to just get up and do it.
Be confident, self-assured, and know that you're a valuable human being who has a lot to offer, both on the job and in your network. As of now, you know how to network for a job. You've got this.
Let us know your favorite networking tips down in the comments!