Great networkers rarely, if ever, apply for jobs… Let that sink in for a moment.
The people who truly understand networking are always a referral, swooping up jobs that plenty of other candidates are equally, if not more, qualified to perform. In the case of the job market, marketing is unfortunately more important than mastery… So what’s holding everyone else back from experiencing the abundance that networking can bring into their lives? In my work as a Career Coach to Millennials, I’ve noticed that too many people have adopted a short-sighted view of a process that is, at its core, about building lasting, productive networks… This means paying it forward and being of service in a very big way.
Clients frequently tell me that networking is intimidating because it feels one-sided and selfish. I coach them in overcoming this mindset, because meaningful career success depends on a network to grow and flourish. Given that 80 percent of available jobs are never publicly posted, the vast majority of job offers are secured through networking. In other words, the job listings you’ve been chasing after are only the tip of the iceberg, and all the opportunities you aren’t seeing —the ones that are so juicy they don’t even hit the job portals— will never be revealed to you unless you start building relationships with the people who know how to access them. With that in mind, if you are making the mistake that so many people make – contacting others only when you need something, or conducting your job search from your sofa rather than face-to-face – it’s time to rethink your approach.
What great networkers understand is that it’s not just about expanding your rolodex when you need something; it’s about creating, sustaining, and fostering real relationships all the time. This doesn’t mean you have to be “on” all the time, but it does mean that you should consider being open and available to having your next networking conversation on a daily basis.
As someone whose life is devoted to teaching others how to land jobs through powerful networking strategies, there are some insights I’d like to share:
1. Network when you don’t need contacts.
The worst time to network is when you need something. Not only could this translate into a desperate undertone, but it hinders you from being as helpful as you must be in order to effectively network. Networking is about giving and taking, and if you’re only interested in what other people can do for you, they will pick up on that. Start having conversations now, so that when you do need something, it’s not as hard, or awkward, to ask. More importantly, approach it with sincerity, an open mind, and willingness to share and listen in all situations, whether you’re in the gym locker room or the bathroom line at Starbucks. Networking isn’t a stepping stone on the way to landing a job, it’s a way of life. Embracing it as such will create space for impactful and lasting changes in your career.
2. Use your weak connections.
People in your immediate circle may have the best intentions, but because you often share similar goals, interests, and upbringings, networking within your comfort zone is limiting. If you want to take big strides in your career, you need to reach farther into the remote corners of your networks. Find the people “out there” who are rising into a role that truly inspires you. This is where you will find professionals who are unexpectedly open to hearing from you and supporting you. My biggest career accomplishments trace back to cold emails and coffees with kind strangers who opened heavy doors for me; now I do the same for others.Bonus points if you’re a student or fresh graduate, as seasoned professionals are often more inclined to support you in this developmental period.
3. Always remind them you’re helpful.
You should get comfortable ending every networking conversation with “if there’s ever anything that I could do to be helpful to you, please don’t hesitate to contact me…” However, if you sense that someone may need something that you are uniquely positioned to assist with, offer it up without any precursor. A friendly email offering support or even just forwarding along an article that aligns with their interests can go a long way to establishing you as someone they will look out for in the future.
Some of my 20- and 30-something clients feel guilty about offering to help because they don’t believe they truly have anything to offer. If you feel that way, I hope you will change your mind. I’ll never forget when I moved to Washington, DC after completing my graduate degree with hopes of landing a job in national security. I learned quickly that the city survived on networking, and made it a point to show up at every event I could find listed as open to the public. Thanks to these events, I networked with 200 seasoned professionals over coffee throughout the course of six weeks… While it felt cringe-worthy to be putting myself out there at this level, I got tens of emails asking for favors after I landed my job running a training program for the Pentagon.
Regardless of where you are or what you have to offer right now, most people will help you because they realize that you will be in a position to reciprocate sooner rather than later. When that happens, be quick to give them the same support they gave you. In the meantime, practice being a connector. Maybe your boss is looking for a new website designer and you have a family friend who frequently offers design services to friends at a discount. Get used to starting conversations, asking questions, and making introductions. This might be out of your comfort zone, but think of it like a muscle – it gets stronger and less agonizing the more it is trained.
4. Use the holidays as an excuse to check in.
The end of one year and the start of the next is a great time to share an expression of gratitude with anyone who has lent you a hand, an ear, or some sage advice. Every December, I send hand-written greeting cards to the people who have helped me in my career. I remind them of the advice that made a difference in my life and thank them for their role in my success. If you are going to do this, don’t be generic in your appreciation! Keep it personal and genuine, and don’t forget #3 –remember to let the recipient know that you are always available to be helpful to him or her.
5. Endorse contacts on LinkedIn.
Sometimes an email falls through the cracks or a contact doesn’t return your phone call. Don’t despair. There are ways to remind them of your existence without repeatedly reaching out or otherwise being aggressive in your pursuit. Endorsing a contact on LinkedIn is one kind way of doing this. Another way to reconnect with professionals in your network is through social media. I often see contacts retweeting my articles, and I always reach out to them with gratitude for spreading the word. This is a great way of connecting with people you haven’t communicated with in a long time. The greatest gift of social media is that we can be as connected – or as disconnected—as we choose to be. Make use of all the tools at your disposal.
6. Understand that networking is giving.
I’ve touched on this throughout the article, but it can’t be overstated. If you still aren’t sold on the importance of networking, keep in mind that many managers loathe the hiring process. In fact, the average referral bonus companies are offering their employees exceeds $3,600, so know that your resume could be the key to someone’s much-needed family vacation. In fact, the HR research and consulting firm, Great Place to Work, found that average referral bonus at companies on its Best Companies to Work For list is $3,600, with the bonus reaching as high as $20,000.
Great networking is not just about expanding your professional contacts, it’s about sustaining them and fostering real relationships. This includes the relationship you have with yourself. If you are fearful, desperate, or even grateful, it will come across in the conversations you have with others. Be especially mindful of your inner-critic, as this personal awareness is a powerful agent for change.
It may appear as though opportunities just fall into someone’s lap, but that abundance is almost always earned through helping and connecting others. Networkers keep in touch, they take the time to email when they hear of a job opening, and they put people in touch, often without being asked to do. One thing is for sure: like all meaningful relationships, they are two-sided. I’ve helped hundreds of millennials get jobs, and I never forget to share the most important words in the world of networking: pay it forward.