Networking – if you’re a graduate looking for your first job, the last thing you want to do is network. You may think it’s simply a formality, an obligatory and (painfully) tedious part of securing that dream job rather than a roadmap for success. However, learning how to effectively network is crucial – perhaps even more so than your resume.
A 2016 networking survey published on LinkedIn shows that as much as 85% of open positions are filled through networking. Considering that a purported 70% of openings aren’t published, the statistics aren’t surprising. But whatever you make of it, the data shows that one thing is certain: often times, getting your door in the right foot comes with knowing the right person, not just the qualifications you carry. Your network can no doubt contribute to your success.
Before you start your job search, you need to accept that networking is a necessity, and keep in mind that it doesn’t end when you walk out of a networking event. That being said, here are the most important do’s and don’ts, so you can network your way to success and land your dream job:
1. Treat networking as a form of socialising
For starters, treat networking as a natural part of your daily interactions, as a means of socialising. Get to know the stranger in the coffee shop who you see every Tuesday or other attendees of a college club event. You never know who they could be. Strike up a friendly, informal conversation and get acquainted:
- What do they enjoy doing on a daily or weekly basis?
- What interests them?
- What causes do they champion?
If you approach networking as a method of socialising, you shift the tone of your interactions from formal sales pitch to a casual human interaction. When you converse with professionals and find common interests, they’re more likely to connect with you and stay in touch than if you were to directly approach them and treat the conversation as a transaction. At the end of the day, professionals are normal people and there’s nothing people hate more than being sold something upfront. If you remember nothing else, remember this: your ‘sell’ is your ability to connect with a person on a human level. Everything else will come after.
Don’t: Whip out your resume and hard sell your education and qualifications. Establish a human connection first, the rest will come later. Here are some great conversation starters.
2. Use networking as a learning tool
One of the most overlooked benefits of networking is the opportunity to learn about the industry you’re looking to enter. When you approach veteran or highly successful professionals in finance, public relations consulting or government, you have access to a wealth of firsthand knowledge and experience you simply can’t compile into a book or distill into an inspirational quote. Here are some questions you can ask:
- What types of professional and soft skills are highly valued in the industry?
- What are the challenges your industry is facing right now?
- How do you see it changing in the next 10 years?
Use this opportunity to find out as much about the field you want to go into, because the person you talk to may offer unique angles and insights based on their specific career that will offer you a more holistic perspective. This will help in finding out if the industry you’re looking at is something you truly want to be involved in. Don’t: Go in and ask upfront the average market salary of an industry profession. Employers want talents with substance and drive, not those that prioritise financial compensation.
3. Do your research – and approach with a purpose
While networking should be an opportunity for you to conduct industry research, you should still do your homework and read up on the company and field you’re looking into. Stay on top of industry developments, understand the basic work scope of its various professions and know who you’re talking to. If you’re looking to go into development, an article you read on sustainability methods to help farmers in Indonesia could help you stand out from other candidates who have nothing better to say other than: ‘I’m interested in pursuing a career with your organisation to fight inequality’.
Moreover, make sure you have a sense of purpose when approaching a potential employer. That’s not to say you can’t make small talk. You need to steer the conversation towards an aim in mind, whether it’s to establish a common interest in microfinance loans or to secure a follow meeting at the employer’s workplace to experience firsthand the company’s working environment.
Don’t: Limit yourself to a company’s website when you do your research. Read up on news articles involving the company, as well as articles – whether they’re thought articles or editorial pieces – that focus on industry developments. You’re not just looking to work for the company, you’re looking to enter an entire industry that constantly changes and evolves.
4. Treat networking as a long-term process
Networking shouldn’t stop the moment you land your dream job. It needs to be a constant part of your life. This doesn’t mean that you have to become best friends with everyone you meet. Rather, you should continually connect with new people who hold mutual interests. That strategic comms associate you went fishing with last week may not only help you transition to your next dream job down the road – he or she could also become a business partner whom you collaborate with on a groundbreaking project.
Business partnerships may yield financial returns for your company, but they also boost your corporate value, as it showcases your entrepreneurial abilities and even potentially raises the company’s profile.
Don’t: Only reach out to your contacts when you need a favour. Keep in touch – grab the occasional cup of coffee, send a holiday greeting and wish them on their birthdays. Like plants, relationships only last so long as they’re attended to. Neglect your network for long stretches of time and you might as well delete their contact info from your phone. So, network for success both in the short and long term.