How to put the “work” in “network”
It is virtually impossible to overestimate the importance of networking when discussing the job search process. You might even say, networking IS the job search!
While learning for the sake of career advancement is critical to your long-term success, it’s only part of the equation. Job seekers often have a difficult time moving from learning to acting, but it’s only when you act, that you produce opportunity.
In simplest form, networking means getting out the door, both literally and figuratively. It means proactively connecting with people. It means building relationships, and embracing the truism that relationships are a two-way street—networking is as much about helping others as it is about being helped.
Networking takes on an added dimension of importance when you’re changing careers, or if you come from what might be considered a “non-conventional” background. In these cases, you have to effectively contextualize your experience, tell your story, and make the case for why you’re right for the job, even if your background doesn’t line up with the role’s requirements. This is best accomplished by forging direct connections, and pursuing opportunities to speak openly and directly with individuals in positions to lend their support.
Put another way, you have to enable people to know the real you. Because you know you’re right for the job. But do they?
Below you’ll find 5 things you need to know to network effectively.
5 Facts About Effective Networking
1. Practice Makes Perfect
There may be no “I” in “team,” but there is a “work” in “network,” and with good reason. You have to put in the effort for it to pay off. The challenge is that, because it’s “human,” we tend to forget that it requires practice. But it does. You wouldn’t sit down at the piano and immediately expect to play Beethoven. So why would you think you can walk into a room and just start networking effectively? Truth is, you can’t. That said, just as with music, some people have a natural aptitude they can rely on, while others need to practice more diligently. But everyone has to practice.
2. It’s a Volume Play (With a Catch!)
There’s a kernel of truth to the idea that the more people you know, the greater the chance one of them will come through for you on the job search front. Based on that premise, it would seem networking is all about volume—the number of people you connect with. And it is, in a way. But there’s a catch—you really should only “take on” a number you can manage, because inaugurating relationships you can’t effectively sustain is the career kiss of death. While it’s not realistic to think that you’re going to write a personal email to every connection every day, you do need to find ways to remain visible, show engagement, and yes, connect. If you join a group, post and comment there. If you follow someone, like and comment on their content. If someone in your network shares good news, congratulate them. Ask questions, and show interest.
3. You Need to Be a Matchmaker Too
All too often, people approach networking from a passive place, even as they’re telling themselves they’re being proactive—I’ll put myself out there, so someone can connect me to someone who knows someone at the place where I need to know someone in order to get an interview with someone. That’s not actually proactive. You’re depending on others to make the connections for you. But networking is about mutually beneficial relationships, and you can be a matchmaker too. In fact, if you want to represent value to, and within, your network, you have to be. So look for opportunities to connect other people to one another. And remember what we discussed above—it’s important to be realistic about what you can offer. You want to help your network, so pursue the balance that’s right for you—you can help a lot of people in little ways, or a few people in big ways.
4. “Online vs. In Real Life” Does Not Exist
It was Marshall McLuhan’s who coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” In 1964, this adage represented a powerful acknowledgement of media’s power to influence how we understand the world. But today, how the message gets delivered—on what platform, by what means, across which devices—matters less and less, and the new truth is that the message is the message. When it comes to networking, it doesn’t matter whether you’re connecting “online” or “in real life.” What matters is the genuineness of your outreach, the quality of your commitment to the relationship, and the rigor with which you work to nurture it. Even as I type this, someone somewhere is getting hired without ever having met the hiring manager in person. Simultaneously, someone right next door is getting hired without ever having even submitted a resume. (Personal note: I’ve been hired for jobs both ways!)
5. Writing Matters
Not everyone likes to hear this, but it’s true. Quality networking depends on written communication—you simply can’t establish and nurture relationships without it. From initial outreaches, thank you letters, and reference requests, to comments on posts, congratulations on job news, and annotations on curated shares, your writing is your calling card. It tells people about who you are on many levels, and you don’t want to let any cracks show. When in doubt, keep it simple. Good writing is clear writing, and you want to prioritize efficacy over elaboration. The great sculptor Auguste Rodin once said of his method:
“I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.”
This is great advice for a networking-minded writer. Focus on the essential element, discard what is extraneous, and ensure you’re getting your message across in simple, clear fashion. Easier said than done sometimes, but the good news is, just like anything else, clear and efficient writing can be learned. It can be practiced, and you can improve. Don’t neglect this critical networking skill. Pro tip: If you’re not sure about something you’ve written, have someone else read it. The career you save may be your own!
What this all comes down to, is that you need to put the “work” in “networking” if you’re going to do it well. Networking is a job in and of itself, and you should treat it that way.
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