The word "networking" can strike terror into the hearts of not only shy job seekers but even the confident ones, and even seasoned entrepreneurs. It conjures up images of wandering round a function room, trying to offload your business card to as many people as you can.
However, networking - when done properly - is one of the most important elements of any effective job search strategy. Consider the facts that almost 80% of jobs openings are never advertised, and around 60% of executive vacancies are filled through networking and referrals.
We usually hate the idea of networking because we think it makes us look pushy, fake or just plain desperate. Relax! Nobody is born knowing how to network. Networking is just another skill that can be learned and can be applied throughout your career.
The following tips can help make the process less painful.
1) Start with people you know
Think you don't know anybody? Think about the people you socialize or currently work with, and their friends/partners/relatives. Not only is it less daunting to start with people you know, it is more efficient and effective to build on your existing network rather than try to create a completely new one from scratch. If everyone you know in turn knows another 10 people, you potentially have access to hundreds, even thousands of people.
2) Do not ask for a job
The most important thing to remember is that networking is NOT about asking people for a job. It is about asking people for information, advice or assistance on how or whom to contact that will be able to help find you a job. Also, it is as much about asking what you can do for them as what they can do for you.
3) Do not assume you are being a pest
Do not assume you are bothering the people you contact. Before you assume you are going to be a pest if you try to make contact with someone, think twice. In fact, most people will be glad to hear from you.
4) Enlist a spokesperson
It is good to have an intermediary who acts as a go-between for you if you are hesitant to contact someone you do not know. If someone in your network has given you the name of a colleague, ask your contact to call the person first for you to "warn" them that you'll be calling. Most people are willing to do this.
5) Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
If you tend to freeze up when meeting someone new, try practising what you are going to say again and again. If you tend to babble when talking on the phone or leaving messages, take some time to plan what you will say before picking up the phone. A written letter or even email of introduction can make the follow-up conversation less nerve-racking if you cannot even get yourself to pick up the phone and make a cold call.
6) Be comfortable in your own skin
Concern about your appearance is a frequent excuse for being reluctant to network, but it need not be. While the "package" you present to others is important, physical attractiveness is not a prerequisite for being a successful networker. If your confidence is undermined by your feelings about your outward appearance, consider fixing what is fixable and learn to make the most of what is not.
7) Just do it
Networking can be difficult, anxiety-provoking and a pain in the neck, but at some point you have to disregard all the excuses, take a deep breath and just do it. Arm yourself with the attitude that there's nothing to lose, but everything to gain!
Do not expect to become a master networker overnight. It takes time, patience, and practice to get good at networking. Be prepared to take baby steps and do not let yourself be discouraged by minor setbacks. Every contact you make, no matter how minor it seems, could be the one to propel you to the next stage of your career.