Networking can be a great way to improve your career prospects. If you know the “right” people, it can open many doors and even lead you to job vacancies that you wouldn’t otherwise have presented themselves to you. For this post, I’ve asked a careers expert to offer some tips. Katharine Hansen, author of “A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way Into the Hidden Market,” gives her advice on how you can use networking to your advantage at work.
Q: Who are the best people to network with – should you stick to people who are in the same industry as yourself, or broaden your horizons further?
“To research my book, A Foot in the Door, I conducted a survey asking professionals and career experts which venues/groups were best for networking. The top answer by far was professional organizations – which ideally would be in one’s field. The next most popular response was volunteer organizations.”
Q: What are the best ways to go about in-person networking?
“Be sure to tell every contact you come across – in a concise way – exactly what you want to do and what you can offer. (Some would call this communication an ‘elevator ‘). Then, ask every contact two questions: a) What advice can you give me? and b) Who should I be talking to?”
Q: Can you still be a good networker if you’re not naturally confident and sociable?
“Of course. Nearly 50 percent of the US population describes itself as shy, according to Wendy Gelberg, author of The Successful Introvert. A good way for the shy and introverted to network is with a buddy. Buddies can give each other moral support while holding each other accountable. Another idea is to join Toastmasters, which helps folks improve confidence and communication skills. I offer many more tips here.”
Q: Would you recommend networking through social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn?
“Social media should definitely be a component in anyone’s networking mix. I recommend participation in the Big 3: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, along with one’s own Web site using his or her name as domain name (like mine, http://katharinehansenphd.com), and 1-2 niche social media venues, such as venues related to one’s field. The big caveat with social media is that it should not be at the expense of face-to-face networking. Social media should take only a small portion of the job seeker’s time because face-to-face networking will be much more effective.”
Q: Do business cards still have a role to play in networking?
“Some people will prefer tracking contact information on a mobile device or other technology, but for many, a good, old-fashioned business card is a tangible way to keep track of contacts and give your information to others.”
Q: Once you’ve gained contacts, how should you go about using them to your advantage when you need to?
“Think about providing mutual benefit, thinking not only of what your contacts can do for you, but what you can do for them. Also keep your contacts up to date on your progress, and thank them for even the smallest bit of help they give you.”
Networking is one of the most effective means to landing that elusive job. In some cases, successful networking can trump bad grades or a lack of work history. Also, to get the most out of networking, it needs to be a two-way process. You’re obviously looking to gain something from your contacts but the reverse is true of them.
Have you used networking to your advantage? What are your tips for successful networking?