As I’ve mentioned here before, I took about five months off from work this year and spent a big portion of that job searching. It was definitely exhausting, but, ultimately, I learned a lot about what I’m looking for in my career and how to get the kind of job I want.
By far the most effective (and most intimidating) tool for career development that I learned? Networking! I used to think networking was scary and fake, but I’ve actually had such a good experience with it recently and I think it’s really about finding people you actually like! Since I feel like there’s a lot of mystery and weirdness surrounding networking, I thought I’d write up some tips that helped me when I was starting out:
- Start with people you know. This is the best way to warm up your networking chops! Talking to friends and family helps you practice your “elevator pitch” and they might even know people who can help you with your job search.
- Find a mutual connection. After friends and family, the next group of people I recommend chatting with are people you have a mutual connection with. I find it easier to reach out when I have a conversation starter like a mutual friend or alma mater.
- People connections: Friends of friends, friends’ siblings, parents’ colleagues, etc. are all great people to talk to once you have a good idea of what you’re looking for.
- Place connections: Reconnect with people you went to school with, update former colleagues on your job search, join a local professional association, etc. Facebook and LinkedIn groups are great too if you’re not sure where to start! Also, some colleges offer career development resources, so check those out, as well.
- Use social media. Having a social media presence and being active on it can be so helpful while you’re looking for a job. Use social media to share your portfolio, show personal projects, and put a face to a name. Follow people who do what you want to do and engage with them! Respond to their Instagram stories, reply to their tweets, and, once you’ve established a rapport, message them about their job. I’ve even had a couple of people pass along my resume to their company as a result!
- Be open. You never know who might know someone, so be open to whoever people connect you with. Sometimes it won’t be helpful and that’s okay – think of it as practice, which is ultimately how you get better at networking. But sometimes you’ll meet someone who works at a great company or can give you a referral – you have to kiss a few frogs, right?
- Go in with an objective. When going to a networking event, I find it really helpful to go into a situation with a goal. Sometimes that goal is to talk to ONE person and that’s totally fine. Other times it’s more specific: get the name of one company I should apply to, ask three people advice on framing my previous experience to better fit their industry, etc. This helps guide my conversations, gives me some questions to ask, and makes me feel like my time was worthwhile even if I don’t hit it off with anyone.
- Ask “Who else can you connect me with?” I recently learned this tip from someone I networked with (Thanks, Meghan!) and it’s such an easy and effective way to keep the ball rolling: at the end of a good networking meeting, ask that person who else they can connect you with. People really want to help other people and it’s so much easier to connect with someone when you have a reference. LinkedIn is a great place to do this since new contacts can see who you’re connected to and they can skim your resume quickly, too.
- Have fun! Okay, maybe that’s a bit of reach, but networking doesn’t have to be the most miserable thing in the world. Look for networking events that sound fun (or at least have an open bar) and try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If you’re meeting someone for coffee, go somewhere fun you’ve been wanting to try. Learn what you can from people and if you hit it off, that’s great! If not, no worries. Networking gets a bad reputation for being stilted and fake, but I think of it as an opportunity to find people you genuinely like.
A Few Don’ts:
- Ask people for a job. This is the number one thing I needed to wrap my head around when it came to networking. It’s not about meeting someone once and getting a job, it’s about getting information that could ultimately lead to a job. It’s a marathon, not a sprint! Instead of asking if their company is hiring, ask them about their experience at the company, what they like about the industry, what frustrates them, etc. Get to know them first and see if they’re even the kind of person you want to get a referral from! If after a few conversations or interactions you want to ask them if their company is hiring then go for it.
- Only network when you’re job searching. I learned this the hard way – network early and often! It’s a long game so don’t wait until you’re actively applying to meet people and see what’s out there. I know it can be hard to carve out time to chat with people while you’re working full time, but try baking it into your work routine. Now that I’m working again, I try to dedicate at least an hour a week to reaching out to new people, catching up with old connections, or researching companies that sound interesting.
- Pay for LinkedIn Premium. I tried the Free Trial when I was job searching and honestly, I would not pay for this service. I could see who viewed my profile, but that fed my curiosity more than it helped me network. If a recruiter wants to get in touch with you, they will. Premium also gives you the ability to send up to 3 messages to people you’re not connected with, but the success rate of cultivating a great connection based on a random message is pretty slim. LinkedIn on it’s own is an amazing tool (and actually how I got the job I have today), but Premium just isn’t that helpful.
Are you guys on the networking grind? It’s definitely a lot of work, but in the long run I think it’s totally worth it for the insight you get from people and the chance at a foot in the door. And if you meet a few people you genuinely like along the way, that’s awesome!
Now that I’m back in Madison, my next networking move is to meet more people here! If you’re a Madison person and want to talk digital marketing, social media, or blogging, hit me up! (See what I did there? 😏)