Research consistently identifies networking—both on-line and offline—as an important job search strategy with 60-80% of hires attributed to networking.
Through the process of information, advice and referral conversations executives can also uncover business needs that lead to job opportunities (known as the “hidden job market”). These positions may be filled through employee referrals, executive search consultants, or direct contact with hiring managers through networking.)
The following tips will help you identify who is in your network and how to use these connections to find your next career move.
1. Build your network before you need it—and keep it growing. The single biggest mistake most executive job searchers make is not asking for help from their network. People want to help you — so let them! But don’t wait until you’re out of work to start developing relationships with your network. You should constantly be building — and strengthening — your connections with your network. One of the easiest ways to do this is using LinkedIn or BlueSteps. One of the most effective ways to improve your network, however, is through personal contact. Do something to build your network each and every day; whether that’s sending an email to someone you haven’t talked to in a while to keep in touch, or identifying someone new you want to meet.
2. Who is your network? The first step is to identify who is in your network. This can include: friends, relatives, parents of children’s friends, parents and relatives of your friends, club members, cousins, neighbors, current and previous co-workers and managers, executive search consultants, suppliers, professional association contacts, your community contacts (civic leaders, clergy, etc.), and your doctor, financial advisor, or attorney. If you don’t already have a list, start one!
3. How to use your network. There are a few ways to use your network to find a new opportunity. The most effective way is to use a more targeted approach. Identify the specific need you have, and then contact people who are in a position to help you reach that specific job goal. Another approach is to contact specific people in your network — or your entire network — and let them know you are looking for ideas, information, advice, and contacts/referrals. This is the broadest way to use your network, and can be useful if you are currently unemployed and not worried about jeopardizing your current job by visibly pursuing a new one.
4. Technology and networking. Social media can also be effective for helping you achieve your networking goals. If you are currently unemployed and not worried about your boss finding out that you’re seeking a new position, you can let your network know you are looking for a new position by posting status updates on LinkedIn and Twitter. Be aware: even if you have your social media profile privacy settings locked down, remember that anything you post online can potentially become public information — all it takes is someone you know taking a screenshot of what you’ve posted, or mentioning the information, and it’s no longer private.
5. Networking cover letters. An effective way to network your way to your new job is to get your resume in the hands of those who are in a position to help you. This is particularly true at the executive level. One way to do this is through a networking cover letter. The purpose of a networking cover letter is to let your network know you’re looking for a position, and ask for specific help.
6. Informational interviewing. Get to know people who can help you find your next job — not necessarily the people doing the hiring, but the people who know those people. Make connections with local business leaders, government officials, bankers, commercial real estate professionals, and others who can network you into the top opportunities within the area. Ask for the opportunity to meet with them to learn more about a specific company, opportunity, or the industry. Make it clear you are not asking them for a job — only for information that may be useful to your job search.
7. Networking in a confidential job search. Ever been surprised when a friend announces a new job and you didn’t even know they were looking? You can use networking even when you’re quietly searching for a new position. However, be aware that the more people who know you’re looking for a new job, the more likely your current employer is to find out about it. One way to avoid this is to build your network even when you’re not searching for a new job. Again, listen to Harvey Mackey’s admonition to “dig your well before you’re thirsty.” Having a robust network can also help you be more effective in your current position, by giving you access to people who can help you solve the problems you face in your daily work.
8. Pay it forward. People in business do value what you can do for them. That is the whole premise in job search – what can you do for the next company. And perhaps you have personally experienced a time when someone has given you a good lead for a potential job, or client account for your current employer. More than likely you remember those unsolicited favors and will want to reciprocate. That’s the premise of pay it forward – by helping people who ask you for assistance, your network will be stronger when you need it.
9. Be specific in what you’re asking for. A specific request for assistance (“Does anyone know someone who works in the accounting department at Company X?”) is more likely to be fulfilled than a general request (“I need a new job! Help!”). Help your network to “see, hear, and visualize” the specific opportunities you are looking for. The clearer you make it for your network, the better your results will be.
10. Don’t forget to ask for help. Most people will be happy to help you — but you need to ask!
11. Follow-up. If a networking contact gives you advice, a lead, or information, follow up on that information — and then also get back to that person to let them know how it went. Common courtesy goes a long way.
12. When you get your new job. After you land your new job, be sure to thank your network — especially contacts that have specifically helped you with your job search. Send a personal note to everyone who assisted you in your search, and consider sending or giving a small gift to those who were of particular help. And don’t forget to spread the word that you’ve accepted a new opportunity.
A word to the wise…Don’t neglect your network just because you found a new job. One of the most important parts of maintaining your network is providing assistance when you are asked. Be responsive to requests for help from folks in your network when their request comes your way. Every person you meet is a potential networking contact. But networking is a two-way relationship. Don’t just see your network as contacts — see them as people. Learn about them and what they do.
Heed the advice of author and networking pro Harvey Mackey: “If I had to name the single characteristic shared by all the truly successful people I’ve met over a lifetime, I’d say it is the ability to create and nurture a network of contacts. A network replaces the weakness of the individual with the strength of a support system. You don’t have to know everything as long as you know the people who do.”
For more tips on this topic, check out all the resources we have on Networking!