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Leverage Networking Groups to Accelerate Your Career

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.

Networking groups can vary in style, types of attendees and are generally open to a broad audience. Some are more casual while others are more formal. Some are company-specific, centered around a group’s common set of attributes or interests (e.g. a Women’s networking group sponsored by your employer) while others are non-company specific (e.g. a regional Rotary Club), etc. Despite the varied types of networking groups, they all share a common goal: To bring career-driven professionals together to create connections and share ideas.

In contrast, professional associations are similar to networking groups, although typically their focus is on a similar group of professionals (e.g. Society of Petroleum Engineers). Additionally, they tend to serve other purposes such as discussing the latest technological advances in their field, ethics issues, education and politics. Professional associations are also a great way to network, just know that the attendees will likely be more specialized than who will attend a general networking group.

When I speak with both passive and active job seekers, I always encourage them to join networking groups and professional associations to align themselves with industry leaders and hiring managers. Whether you are an attorney, engineer, I.T. or finance professional in the Oil-and-Gas-industry, your corporate relationships and industry involvement will set you apart from your competition – all possible to gain through how well you leverage networking groups and professional associations.

I highly recommend that you attend as many events as your schedule will allow, with a plan of action. Assuming your networking goal is to build valuable connections that could land you a top job, here are six networking tips to help you accomplish your goals:

Be Casual, Yet Professional

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.

A Conversation is a Two-Way Street

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.

Express Interest

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.

Leverage LinkedIn

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.

What to Do After the Networking Event

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.

Be Persistent

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.