Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” Well, it’s true. When it comes to landing your next job, realize that there is a substantial amount of competition to win over the hiring manager and obtain the position. Having a top-notch degree, experience and skill sets are not always enough to get the job. It’s been my experience that individuals who have the most expansive networks are more likely to find jobs more quickly than those without a substantive network. Networking groups and professional organizations are great opportunities to not only build relationships, but to land jobs.
Although you should have a plan of action prior to attending these events, you should comport yourself in a casual way, yet professional. Networking is social – be yourself and blend in. Giving your business card to someone right away without first establishing an initial rapport may make you appear less socially astute. Instead, find some commonality with the person. For example, do you both like to ski? Do you have children the same age? Or do you both love to travel? After finding something in common, you may then engage them on work-related issues. The exchange of cards should occur before the end of the conversation or end of the evening, but not upfront.
Conversation, whether it is work-related or not, is constant at networking events. As you meet new people and converse with colleagues, always appear engaged and focused. Be genuine. Show that you have a genuine interest in both learning about others, and helping others learn about you. What if you don’t think you’re a good conversationalist or good at small talk? Practice makes perfect. Read up on current events – particularly issues that impact your industry – so that if someone mentions a recent event in the conversation you have a perspective on the issue. That being said, I recommend steering away from discussing religion or in politics in mixed company. Why? Because you don’t know another person’s religious or political views, and if you delve into these touchy subjects, you may unknowingly offend them which will defeat your purpose of building your network.
Show enthusiasm for your career and current position, but express your interest in moving up the corporate ladder – especially when conversing with a hiring manager or leader at a company that has piqued your interest. This subtly-planted seed could lead to a more serious conversation in the future.
Networking events or professional association meetings may take place only weekly or monthly, so LinkedIn is a valuable way to bridge the gaps. Not only should you connect with the individuals you meet at these events on LinkedIn because it’s a convenient way to keep in touch and share your résumé, but you should also make a point to join online networking and professional communities on LinkedIn.
You have a couple of business cards, now what? As mentioned above, connect with them on LinkedIn. However, asking for favors right away before you’ve built a rapport can be off-putting, so here’s a tip: Do something for them before you ask a favor of them. For example, if the person you’d like to build a rapport with mentions during the networking event that they’re an avid golf player or skier and you come across an article that may interest them about their hobbies or interest, send it to them.
Nothing happens overnight, so don’t expect your attendance at one or two networking events to land you your ideal position. Be persistent. Attendance over time can help you build relationships that will undoubtedly accelerate your career trajectory.