Remember when we were young, we were taught not to talk to strangers no matter the circumstances? Funny how that changes as we grow up and are entered in a “survival of the fittest” contest competing against hundreds of other people for a job opportunity.
What do I mean by “Survival of the Fittest“? In today’s job market, the hiring process for Gen Y and Gen Z has drastically changed. With online platforms such as LinkedIn, Google+, or Ten Thousand Coffees, it seems like the ‘easiest’ way to be considered for a job is through that dreaded “N” word.
According to a 2012 report from ABC News, “80% of today’s jobs are landed through networking”. And it totally makes sense! Imagine this: You have recently graduated and are looking for a position as a Communications Officer. You have the option of submitting your cover letter and resume online along with 400 other applicants, or you can attend a networking event, meet industry experts that could advise you on your career and acquire a few new connections, which could lead to a personal recommendation on your behalf. Which route would you rather choose? Easy, the answer is the latter. Although you may not get hired on the spot in either situation, you have 10x more of a chance to leave a lasting impression in person than on paper.
Okay, so you may be thinking that it’s just as competitive meeting someone in person at an event where there are hundreds of attendees, but it’s so important to realize the purpose and potential behind networking. First and foremost, it isn’t a competition! It’s simply a way to expand your networks and connect with other professionals. Instead of being one of the hundreds online applications, you become a name and face that others can relate to. However, with that said, don’t stop applying online! Do take the time to craft an impressive cover letter and resume. Secondly, you have the opportunity to conduct your own market research within your industry. Networking is a great way to chat with industry experts and to see what they are potentially looking for in an employee or within their company. As you frequently attend various networking events, you have that advantage over those who aren’t proactively networking. By listening and realizing what companies are looking for, you can now cater your resume or cover letter to those needs.
Now that you see the importance, here’s how to apply the well-known concept of “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”:
- Find Your Style: Pink might not suit everyone, but networking definitely does. Whether you are an extrovert, introvert, or a hybrid of both, learning which style fits your personality the most is a crucial key to your professional development. As a networker, you can engage and meet other people by attending networking events (there are free ones!), hosting or dropping by a meetup in your local community, participating in a conference or convention, joining a club, volunteering within an organization, inviting someone for coffee through Ten Thousand Coffees or another social media platform, or even connecting with someone through an online conversation. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and it will open doors for you. If you are a bit shyer, and this is your first time networking, start small or call up a friend! There is no rush when it comes to networking.
- Set Realistic Expectations: It’s daunting enough to have to head into a room full of strangers and interact with them, so don’t overwhelm yourself beforehand with unrealistic goals. Understand that you won’t have the chance to talk to everyone in the room and that you might only be walking out with three connections. Realize that less is more, and that it is far more beneficial for you to have made three profound connections than 15 superficial ones. Remember the reason you decided to attend in the first place and be proud of your accomplishments, no matter the size.
- Make Relationships, Not Sales: Too many people attend networking events for the sole reason that they are hoping to get hired. That should never be the case! The real purpose behind networking is to forge connections and build relationships with new and old faces. Don’t give out your business cards like candy! Only offer them if you have made a real connection with whoever you are speaking to, and that goes for asking for business cards too! This isn’t a game of Cards Against Humanity. Only collect if you have the true desire to follow up with them after the event and believe that there could be a mutually beneficial relationship between the two of you. Furthermore, don’t pretend to be anyone else but yourself. Be genuine and authentic. It’ll go a long way for yourself, and your career. Trust us.
- Sharing is Caring: Being a successful networker means constantly thinking, “How can I help this person?”. As human beings, we don’t necessary have to have the same goals to support one another, so why not put your good faith forward and share your contacts and expertise if it means advancing someone else’s dreams? The most common mistake job seekers tend to make is believing that networking is all about them. They constantly ask without giving, which is the quickest way to drive anyone away. To be successful, you should learn to help others first. Everyone has something to offer, so don’t be selfish. One of Les Brown’s greatest advice to us is “Help others achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours”, and it couldn’t be better said. Pay it forward, and it’ll all come back around to you.
- Follow Up, and Follow Through: You’ve exchanged business cards and/or contact information with your newly-made connections. That’s great – but don’t forget about them afterwards! Send them an email, or connect with them over LinkedIn thanking them for their time, and re-engage with them by attaching an article or links that may be of interest to them. Invite them to coffee or after-work drinks to see if they have made any progress on their goals. Another common mistake networkers tend to make is by not engaging their connections properly afterwards. You already did the hard part by getting their coordinates, so don’t let it go to waste! Maintain your relationships with them, and who knows, maybe that connection will slowly blossom into a new friendship. Start compiling your list and use it to your advantage. It takes less than a minute to craft a quick message to let them know you are thinking of them. It’s a great and easy way to brighten up their day. Do keep in mind that the strongest bonds among people are still based on relationships established in the offline, physical world, so don’t count on Facebook or LinkedIn to do all the work for you.
It’s important to remember to be purposeful and be productive when it comes to networking. The more competitive the job market, the more aggressively you must expand your professional network to give yourself that that extra step ahead of everyone else. The way I see it, networking is just another form of dating. You are meeting people to find a compatible relationship that could be mutually beneficial to one another. You take the time to know more about them, their company, their goals, and you continue to cultivate that relationship in hopes that it becomes a great one!
If you put in the time and effort in dating, put the time in networking. It’s that simple!
What’s your favorite advice to give to new networkers?