On a webinar presented by a successful recruiting organization, attendees unanimously agreed that networking is the key to finding good executive talent. The recruiters were clear that they start looking for candidates to fill their openings from their network before using any other resources.
Some sources say that 75-80% of job opportunities are found through networking, which is why your job search should include the development of an aggressive social media plan. Networking does offer a path to the hidden job market that is not tapped by the average jobseeker.
So why isn’t every executive networking as part of their career plan?
Before You Start Networking
If networking has not been your strength in the past, you need to understand what networking involves, determine the types of networking activities you are willing to do, and recognize the value it will bring to your career.
• Create your networking goals. As with any project you begin, setting an objective or goal is imperative for success. Take it from Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Setting one goal could be as simple as identifying people you would like to meet that may have potential opportunities or have contacts that do.
A partial list to get you started:
o Former bosses
o Service providers
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• Don’t be intimidated. Many think of networking as asking for favors. Reframe your mindset. In reality, networking is building a team. Think of it as a master team of professionals, friends, and family that have unique value to you, are vested in your success, and are people you can support and assist in return.
Networking Thru Social Media
Networking through social media can be safe, and it’s certainly a good place to start. If you are not already active on major professional social media platforms, you will have to stretch your comfort zone and get a little more involved.
Here are a few tips:
• Expand your reach on LinkedIn. Connect with people you know to add to your contact list. Don’t forget to check LinkedIn resources for college alumni, former companies, colleagues, professional organizations, etc.
• Watch your LinkedIn feed for interesting articles. Commenting or “liking” these articles is a great conversation builder and, in time, could increase your online rankings (which recruiters look at when searching for candidates). It is also a good place to find people to connect to, follow, and find opportunities.
• Join networks or groups that meet your personal and professional needs. Don’t just be a member; contribute your expertise. Many groups have a “jobs” tab where recruiters list openings. While there may not be an executive job listed, there is a way to connect directly to the recruiter and start building a relationship (introduce yourself) for future positions.
You may have your networking goals set by this stage, but there is still a plan that needs to be put in place for face-to-face networking. You want to make the most of your networking time and not miss potential opportunities.
• Make a short list of people to meet. Most organization meetings have a list of attendees available in advance. Examine the list to find several people you’d like to meet and check them out online beforehand. This gives you the advantage of going into the meeting with a little knowledge about the people you want to connect with, and can prove valuable in starting a conversation and building a relationship.
• Being yourself is always the best approach. Relax and don’t try to oversell yourself. People love to talk about themselves so one approach is finding out about the other person, even asking a question like what their biggest challenge is in their job. Often they may reveal a problem you have dealt with before and can engage in a meaningful conversation with a possible solution.
After You Network
You made it this far, don’t drop the ball now! Hopefully, you have kept track of who you met (online or in person) and have noted how they might help you, and how you could be of assistance to them. The value of networking is what you do with the contacts you’ve made.
• Follow up. While building your network – online or face-to-face – collect business cards or write down online contact information so you can follow up with a “good to meet you” card or email afterward. Maybe in the course of a conversation you mentioned a resource to pass on and can follow up sending that resource. Following up after a meet and greet is essential to building relationships and warming up networking contacts.
• Build ongoing relationships. Keep in touch! Following up with one communication is not enough to build a good relationship. On the other hand, you don’t want to overwhelm your new connections with too much information either. Choose a good balance of information and resources to share to keep it interesting and beneficial.
Executives should understand the critical role of networking in their career and job search process. It is one of the most effective career strategies a person can engage in. Think of your network like a bank account. You need to put something in before you can make a withdrawal. Giving to others, first, builds network credit towards “relationship currency.”
With a strong network, you have power and resources to move forward in your career.