Use Your Network

Networking is a crucial element of job hunting because many jobs are never advertised. Employers prefer to interview and hire people referred to them by friends, family, or current employees. This is called the hidden job market.

Everyone networks — at school, church, social activities, work, and online. It is about helping other people as much as it is about getting people to help you. It also helps connect you with others who share your interests.

Career networking is about talking with people — formally or informally — who might know about possible jobs.

  • It is not the same as asking for a job. Usually your networking contacts will not be potential employers.
  • It helps you learn inside information about jobs that are being created or not advertised.
  • You can use it for ongoing professional and personal development.
  • An employer who is not hiring today may be looking for someone like you tomorrow.

Here are some tips to successful networking.

Be clear about your job search goals

Think about what you want to say to others about yourself and what you want to know from them.

  • What kind(s) of job(s) are you looking for?
  • What skills and experience prepared you for these jobs?
  • Are you focused on a particular industry?
  • Do you want to find a job at a particular company?
  • Do you want to look for jobs within certain geography?

Prepare an "elevator speech"

An elevator speech is a two-minute description of your skills and career goals. It's an easy way to share what you want to learn from someone who is in a position to help you. Here's an example:

"Hi. My name is ____________. I'm looking for _________________ in _______. I really like __________________ . I'm good at ___________________."

When using your elevator speech, don't be afraid to ask for help. For example, "Do you have any advice for me? Do you know anything about this company? Do you know anyone who does know about ______________? Can I use your name to contact them?"

Make a list of contacts

Make a list people who might be able to help answer your job search questions. Start talking with them. These contacts might include:

  • Friends, family, neighbors, and church members.
  • Former classmates, teachers, and professors.
  • Acquaintances and business contacts, including former managers, supervisors, and coworkers.
  • Referrals from other contacts.

Be prepared and organize your list of contacts

Some job seekers find it helpful to think about themselves as a business. Successful businesses have a business plan to manage and market their products or services. In a job search, your skills, experience, and personal strengths are your products or services. Here are a few ways to make sure you create a good first impression and effectively manage your job search:

  • Create a simple business card. Make sure it focuses on your target job search titles and promotes your skills and strengths. Put your preferred contact information on it. Always have a few with you.
  • Organize information about your contacts in a way that is meaningful to you. Then track your ongoing communication with them. Some people use a three-ring binder, tickler file, spreadsheet, or e-mail system.
  • Research potential employers to learn more about them before you contact someone who might be helpful to you.
  • Prepare your resume in case someone asks for it.
  • Reach out to others and enjoy yourself!

Set up informational interviews

An informational interview is a meeting with an employer or professional within a specific industry. They are used to learn about the skills, training, and experience needed for an occupation. It's also a way to learn about a specific company or industry.

  • Keep your conversations friendly but businesslike. Give a brief summary of your objectives. Then explain how your accomplishments support this objective. 
  • Be sure to send a thank-you letter within 24 hours of an interview.
  • Never ask for a job during an informational interview.

Contact potential employers

When someone in your network refers you to an employer, make direct contact in-person, by phone, or by e-mail. Be sure to mention your networking contact's name. When you tell someone you will call, be sure to follow up. If they’re difficult to reach, keep trying. It’s your responsibility to connect. If you are using e-mail, use the following tips:

  • Avoid nicknames or unprofessional names in your e-mail address.
  • Keep messages short and to the point.
  • Identify yourself in a professional manner.
  • Introduce yourself with something of interest. Let them know right away why they might be interested in you.
  • Be specific. For example, ask for information or ask to schedule a meeting.
  • Give your message a descriptive subject.
  • Finish with your intent to follow-up. Provide an alternative way for the person to contact you. If you send e-mail to someone without their permission, find out if they would prefer some other form of communication. Include a phone number where they can reach you.
  • Check for proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  • If you do not receive a reply but are serious about making contact, call them on the phone.

Nurture your network

Networking is about building relationships. You listen and learn about the other person. You think about mutual interests and the ways you can support them while they help you. As with any friendship, respect their limits on the amount and type of interaction. Here are some ways to support your contacts:

  • Take notes during your conversations. Follow up by e-mail, telephone, mail, or text message.
  • Send them an article about something you know is important to them.
  • Show an interest in their personal life. Remember the names and interests of people important to them.
  • Come up with a solution to a problem they shared with you. For example, someone you know used an effective service provider or vendor to solve a work issue.
  • Stay in contact with people from your past.
  • Include them in holiday greetings.
  • Let them know you are searching for a job. Tell them what is working and in which specific areas you could use help.
  • Update them on those things where you share a common interest.
  • Let your contacts know that you appreciate the time they spend with you as well as their knowledge and opinion.
  • If someone has been especially helpful to you, offer to take them out for coffee or a meal on your dime.
  • Once you get a job, thank everyone who was helpful to you. Give them your new contact information.
  • Don't lose touch! Networking is not just about getting a job. It's about ongoing career development and support.

Expand your network

Looking for other ways to get your foot in the doors of potential employers?

  • Join a professional or business association. They are one of the best ways to learn about trends and unadvertised jobs. Many members are eager to help job seekers and often know employers with open positions. Association listings can be found online or at your local library.
  • Join online networking Web sites. These can connect you with potential jobs, colleagues, and business opportunities.
  • Contact your college alumni office. Alumni may be willing to do informational interviews with graduates of their institution.

Find a mentor who has experience in the field you’re pursuing. Get their advice and use them as a sounding board for your thoughts and ideas. Ask to shadow them on the job.