If you’ve recently graduated from college and are looking for a job, networking is, by far, the single most effective tool in your job search. Yet many recent grads fear networking and fail to grasp why it’s so important. Understanding why you need to network and how to do it effectively can help you move past your networking anxiety and on your way to finding a great job.
According to a recent study published on LinkedIn, 85% of jobs are found via networking. Career experts agree that the majority of your job search time should be spent networking. In my experience as a career coach, my clients who actively network find jobs in nearly half the time as those who don’t.
Tom Farley, President of the New York Stock Exchange credits every job he’s ever had, including his current one, to networking.
Easing Your Anxiety
So, what is it about networking that induces anxiety in job seekers, both experienced and inexperienced?
Typically, it’s fear of rejection coupled with fear of the unknown. No one likes to be rejected and it’s completely normal to be uncomfortable with skills you haven’t mastered.
To get over your fear, it helps to understand what networking is and what it isn’t. Networking isn’t contacting everyone you know and asking for direct help finding a job. Networking at its core is about exchanging information and building productive, business focused relationships.
Why Networking is Critical to your Search
LinkedIn revolutionized online networking making connecting with others easier than ever. While LinkedIn is an important tool, it’s only part of the equation. There are numerous reasons why you have to get out from behind your laptop to network effectively.
First, the majority of jobs are never posted so if you don’t network, you are losing out on a valuable source for job openings.
Second, people make hiring decisions, not computers. If you are spending more than twenty percent of your job search time behind your laptop screen, you are not going to find a job. Trust me on this.
Third, it’s expected and thus not an intrusion. Every person who has ever looked for a job has networked and realized the benefits of others’ generosity. Paying it forward can bring a sense of satisfaction to those who help you with your search.
Fourth, asking for help is a sign of maturity, not a weakness. I’ve encountered recent graduates who are reluctant to tap into their parents’ or friends’ networks, either because they are exerting their new found independence or they feel that somehow it’s “cheating”. Who you know may open doors but it’s up to you to get the job.
Target people you know fairly well. It will less intimidating and more fun for you. Contact family members, your friends’ parents, and neighbors to see if they would speak with you about their careers.
Ask for fifteen or thirty minutes of your contact’s time and be flexible on scheduling. They are helping you out, so make it easy for your contact to say yes. Offer to buy them coffee before work. If they can’t meet outside of work, offer to meet them at their office. If that doesn’t work, set up a phone call or better, Skype or Face Time.
Preparation for a networking meeting is just as critical as preparation for a job interview. Research the individual with whom you’ll be meeting, their company and the industry and prepare a list of questions you’d like to ask. Preparation helps calm your nerves and also give you the opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism.
Target a specific number of contacts and meetings per week. This helps you hold yourself accountable. The more connections you make, the better your chances of uncovering a lead.
Pursue companies you’d like to work for. Then use LinkedIn to source connections, such as alumni from your college, your connections and theirs too.
Focus on one-to-one networking.
Until you are more comfortable, skip networking events. Unless you are extremely extroverted or were born for sales, these events can be awkward for those new to networking. At this stage, you want your networking experiences to be positive.
Networking should be mutually beneficial. It is not all about what they can do for you. In life, there are givers and takers. In networking, it’s critical to balance being both. Be generous. Chances are you have a skill or a connection that might be of help to others. Be sure to ask how you can help!
Never underestimate who might be able to help you. Anyone you encounter can be a resource. A good friend once got a networking suggestion from the security guard at his condominium complex. The tip not only helped him land his next job, he leveraged it into a very successful career.
Keep in touch.
Networking is not a one and done event. You need to keep your network informed of your progress and repay the favor extended to you. Share an article of interest or ask if there is anything you can do for them. You never know when you might need help again so staying in touch is important.
Share your success.
Be sure to inform your entire network (individually, not via mass email) when you land that great job. Let them know that their help was a critical component of your success. And always, always, always write a thank you note.
On my desk is a quotation that I love: “Most things are difficult before they are easy.” Use these tips to ease your anxiety and build your networking skills. The first step is the hardest but once you are on the path, you’ll quickly find that you’ve become a natural at networking.
If you have a favorite networking tip or experience that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you!