Networking is an absolutely critical component of finding a job. While traditional networking in a face-to-face environment is still very important, today's job seekers can also network online, which opens up an even broader range of opportunities to connect with people, all around the world.
While many elements of networking are very common sense, there are some key things that bear emphasizing to ensure that your networking efforts are successful.
First, recognize that networking is a two-way street. It's not about what you can “get or gain” from the other person, but how you can both benefit from the connection. Think of ways that you might also benefit those you are connecting with. There may be little ways you can help, such as suggesting contacts that you have made through your networking efforts that might be useful to your new connections or sharing relevant information that these contacts might find useful.
Don't disregard networking with other unemployed people. While it might seem like these people don't have much to offer you at the moment, they may be in a position to help your job search down the road. They also may have connections at past places of employment or within their own network.
Second, think broadly in terms of the connections you make—we've already talked about some good ways to find people or organizations that can serve as good connections. In addition, don't overlook friends and family. Many people think of networking as attending events and making new contacts from scratch, but your family and friends can be a great starting point. An important concept here is to think about those people who may be strong influencers and are skilled at connecting with others. These people represent “nodes” that can help your network grow exponentially.
Third, be strategic as you build your network and prioritize your efforts, always thinking of your ultimate job goal.
Here are some additional tips that can help you build and leverage the value of your network:
Present yourself well. Be aware that you are making a lot of first impressions and first impressions set the stage for future contacts. Dress appropriately. If at events where alcohol is served, limit yourself to one or two drinks, if any!
Be respectful to everyone you come in contact with, not just those that you think can help you. That means staff at all levels of an organization, working at events, people you meet in hallways or elevators, etc. You never know …
And speaking of elevators … develop and be prepared to deliver an elevator pitch to those you meet. This should be a summary of who you are, what your skills and experience are, and where you would like to see yourself in the future. Be careful, though, not to make this sound too rehearsed. Tweak your message depending on who you are talking to and adapt it, as needed, to reflect any changes in current situation or job goals.
Volunteering can be a great way to meet people in your community, demonstrate your work ethic, and gain important skills.
Don't overlook online networking. The Internet and social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn mean that you don't have to focus solely on face-to-face networking. Cast a wide net and look for connections everywhere!