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June 17, 2019

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Networking 101

In this Section:

Specifics to Get You Started

The aim of networking is to develop and maintain relationships – something women are naturally good at in their personal lives but not so great at when it comes to their careers. Think of networking as sharing: time, information, resources and opportunities. It can be as simple as just talking to everyone you know.

Networking is crucial throughout your career, but at this moment, you’re networking with a purpose: to find job opportunities. Your goal is to spin a huge web of contacts who will lead you to the person who will offer you a great new job. The larger your web, the more prospects you’ll have. The following tips and ideas will help you network like a pro, but it’s up to you to take action.

Keep a Rolodex. It’s crucial to keep track of everyone you contact. We love the old-fashioned fun of flipping through a Rolodex, but you may prefer the convenience of a Palm Pilot. An inexpensive notebook, address book, or box of index cards is just as effective too. Save all the business cards you receive during your networking activities and make cards for prospective contacts. Mark down the date of each interaction with each person: meetings, phone calls, and résumé mailings. Record who refers you to whom and how you followed up. Regularly flip through these contact cards or notebook pages to make sure no contact falls through the cracks.

Start close to home. The question is: who do you know? And the answer is: more people than you think! And those people know countless other people. So get the word out – seize every opportunity to publicize your job search. Shout it from the rooftops! Begin asking for assistance with the right attitude. You are in business to get a job. Tell your clergy, clubs, professional organization members, volunteer contacts, merchants, civic leaders, neighbors, and anyone and everyone they know as well. Don’t leave out your classmates, former classmates, school alumni, teachers, professors, coaches, and anyone who was ever on your team or in your class. Co-workers, former co-workers, bosses and friends’ bosses count, too. Be specific! Instead of just asking them “who’s hiring,” let them know the type of position you’re looking for.

Get your hair cut and your teeth cleaned. Mention what you’re interested in to everyone: your personal trainer, the babysitter, the butcher, the baker…you get the idea. You never know who might know someone who knows someone who knows someone. Hairdressers and dentists tend to know everyone, so tap them for leads.

Be a good listener. Even if you’re not great at small talk, it’s easy to be a good listener. Everyone loves to talk about him- or herself, and other people’s experiences are a great way to learn about a career or a company, as well as potential job openings. Just ask a few key questions:

  • “What do you do?”
  • “Where are you working?”
  • “How’d you get started in that line of work?”

Then sit back and soak up the information. A random encounter at a coffee shop or on a subway may spark a new job or industry idea in your head.

Find a reason to call. We know it’s uncomfortable to call someone out of the blue to say “hello”, especially when what you really want to do is scream, “Can’t you find me a friggin’ job?” Find articles or news programs that you might recommend to your key contacts. “I saw this article and thought of you” shows people that you are up on your current events and that your professional life is at the top of their mind. This tactic is sure to impress! If you can’t come up with something quite as clever, invite your contact for afternoon tea or an evening cocktail at the newest spot in town. It’s less expensive than a whole meal, and that drink could lead to great connections. Instead of asking for a job, start by offering your contact the opportunity to share their career advice and individual stories.

Use your alumni association. College alumni are an often-untapped resource, which is a shame since they can be some of your best connections for career networking. Aside from maintaining a vast network of contacts, many of whom are ready to help fellow graduates, career service offices also offer a range of services. These include résumé critiques, career assessment instruments, seminars, career days, employer information sessions, alumni networking clubs, and access to online job listings. Most schools around the country provide reciprocity for their alumni at other schools. If you attended a small college and you’ve found that none of the alumni connections are relevant, ask your alma mater to write a letter on your behalf seeking services at other career centers around the country. Such arrangements allow you to tap into that network and make use of their resources. Similarly, when approaching alumni for assistance with your search, be prepared to share the latest campus news and excitement. This often provokes a sense of nostalgia and triggers memories from their time on campus. That connection can strengthen their desire to assist your efforts. It is also an opportunity for them to learn what kind of career opportunities new graduates are currently pursuing.

Build your Board of Directors. Success is not just about what you know, it’s who you know…and how you keep it all organized. Make sure you begin building a personal dream team or your very own Board of Directors, those people whose helping hands will boost you to the top of the career ladder. From people with a heart of gold to those with a pot of gold, the ideas is to create a prize-winning database of individuals who know your name and take your calls.

Support network. Oprah has Gayle – her best friend and sidekick – who she knows will always tell it to her straight. In addition to shopping, gossiping and doing other activities, they’re also able to love, laugh, and cry together. They know each other’s secrets, strengths, and foibles – and they adore each other, on good and bad days.

It’s rare for any of us to thrive on our own. We don’t need just need intimate partners or romance, we also need a solid support system to aid us in our personal and professional pursuits. The most successful women have indentified and developed such circles to aid their success. Regardless of your income level or field, it’s important to have best friend, mentor and role model. Sometimes it’s one person who fills all three roles; for other women it’s many.

Do your homework. Before getting in touch with your new or old contact, research his or her company thoroughly. Familiarize yourself with the organization’s structure, products and services, and competitors, as well as how this person’s job fits into the organization. Go beyond reading the website. Read trade journals and other industry magazines.

Prepare for an informational interview. You’ve convinced someone to give you their valuable time. Don’t squander it. Be prepared, professional, polite, and to the point. Create a list of questions to ask them based on your individual goals and the knowledge you have gained through your research. Among those potential questions are:

  • Why does this type of work interest you, and how did you get started?
  • Why did you choose to join your current company?
  • What do you find most satisfying in your work?
  • What are the major frustrations in your job?
  • What pitfalls should I be sure to avoid?
  • If you had to start over, would you pick this role again? Would you pick this company again?
  • What are the top skills someone must possess to be successful in this line of work?
  • What’s the best career advice you ever received?
  • What advice would you give to someone starting out in or looking to break into this field?
  • What professional organizations do you consider most beneficial for career development?
  • What is the current hiring outlook for your organization? How does that differ from the hiring outlook in the industry as a whole?
  • Would you be willing to review my résumé and provide feedback?
  • What specific steps should I take to advance my career?
  • When would be a good time to follow up with you to stay in touch

Asking questions like these ensures that you will help this contact feel confident that they have valuable knowledge to impart and that you will learn much from this networking opportunity.

Beyond the Basics

Getting ahead in your career is not just about contacts, it’s about relationships. And one way to solidify relationships is with consideration. Remember, it’s often the little things that count such as cards, gifts, a phone call, or an interesting article clipped from the newspaper. Here are some inexpensive ways to keep yourself in the minds of your professional contacts.

Meet for drinks and appetizers. This is an easy way to say hello and spend a few minutes with a casual contact. If there’s someone she knows who you want to know too, ask her to bring that person along too, and remind them that you’re treating so there’s no arguing or confusion. Tell your contact why you want her to bring someone else along, of course. Nobody likes to feel like they’re being used without their permission.

Make a sports date. This is a classic stay in touch ploy in the world of men. It’s time we adopted it too. There are so many avenues to pursue:golf, tennis, jogging, walking, Yoga, a Pilates class, aerobics or kickboxing, for instance. You’ll be doing your heart a favor as you work on your networking too!

Have a networking party. This is like a Tupperware party, but you’re selling yourself, not plastics. Invite a group of contacts you think would be congenial with each other for brunch or wine and cheese. There’s no need to do any kind of presentation, because you’re just inviting folks to get together socially. Your hostess skills and your enthusiasm will leave them with a positive impression without the stiffness of a formal presentation.

Make this gathering a tradition. Make your get-togethers so great that people will be clamoring to get in. Remember reading about the Grand Salon in Paris? In 1750, it was THE place to be seen. But not only was it fashionable to visit the salon and view beautiful artwork, it was political too. There’s great prestige in rubbing elbows with influential types…and that goes for today as well as 18th century France.

Get in for free. Call your local Chamber of Commerce and other major business organizations in your city to get a calendar of events where you might make good contacts. Volunteer to help prepare, set up, clean up, or perform any other service that will get you into the event at no charge. Women For Hire’s favorite trick is to volunteer to work at the check-in desk where the nametags are displayed. This way you’ll be able to meet and greet every attendee, then schmooze with them later when you’re off duty.

Use the power of technology. Design a website about yourself and promote it to everyone in your address book. One woman we know got a job by writing a very clever email about herself and sending it to everyone on her address list. She requested her email buddies to forward her information to five friends. She received two job offers within three weeks.

Get published. Promote yourself as an expert to association newsletters, local newspapers, community Web sites and other publications. Most smaller publications are eager for good content and happy to consider a well-written article or even a short tidbit. Getting published means getting your name out in public (in front of eyes who may be hiring), and a published article is always a good résumé item or notable achievement to mention in an interview. If you’ve designed your own Web site, be sure to link your articles to it.

Reach out and touch someone important. Next time you see a newspaper or magazine article about a successful woman in your industry, write her a note of congratulations and ask if she has any advice to offer a peer in her field. Most women will be flattered that you read about them and happy to share some nuggets of wisdom. Why not ask to interview the most admired woman in your field? Consider writing an article about her for an association newsletter. If your article is published, the featured woman will not only read the article, she’ll share it with her friends and colleagues.

Learn your rights. If your spouse was relocated, check with his or her company to see if spousal support is offered for job placement. Many human resource offices offer career assistance helping a spouse find a job.

Employee Referrals

One great way to avoid not feeling guilty about bugging your friends and family to help you find work is to check into their company’s employee referral program. Find someone inside your ideal company to email the human resource department on your behalf with a strong referral. If a current employee writes to their human resource contact saying, “Here’s someone my neighbor went to college with. I’ve talked to her and she sounds very intelligent. I’d like to forward her résumé,” that contact is much more likely to take a look at an unsolicited résumé than if your resume came in with the ordinary mail.

Why do internal referrals work? Companies want to maintain good relations with current employees. Even if your résumé doesn’t look perfect, the human resource department may touch base with you simply out of courtesy. Then it’s up to you to impress a hiring manager with your strong interpersonal skills. It helps if your recommendation to human resource came from a senior-level employee, but even an assistant’s referral will get positive attention.

Many large companies offer financial incentives for referrals that lead to successful hires. But even if the employee doesn’t end up with money through their firm’s employee referral program, the real motivation is helping a friend or contact get a foot in the door! Remember, networking goes both ways. Your recommender may need your referral too someday soon.


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