Networking is a way to strategically meet other people that can help you get a job or get more work if you are self-employed. It can help you make connections with people who can hire you for your perfect job. It can help you increase your sales if you have your own business. When people decide that they need someone to help them, they will think first about people they already know. If you are someone that has the skills they need, and they already know and like you, they might not bother to look any further and you will get the work. Networking is about creating connections with people in a way that you already do, when you are making an effort to make a new friend or to get to know your new neighbours.
Who should you to talk to?
If you are trying to decide which career to switch to, then you should be talking to people who are currently in the kind of job that you are considering. If you already know what kind of job you want, then you should talk to people who are supervising or managing the position you would like. If you have your own business, you should talk to your ideal client, or someone who is in a complementary business that could refer clients to you.
How do you find the people to talk to?
Do an internet search for websites of companies you are interested in working for or with. Check LinkedIn. Search for “job title” “city where I want work” (for example, “graphic designer Surrey”). Ask your family and friends if they know someone you can talk to. Be specific about what you are looking for. Drop by some businesses and talk to the receptionist or whoever greets you at the door. Avoid dropping in just before they close or during any busy times that you are aware of. Talk to people in social situations, such as parties, your daughter’s soccer game, or at the dog park. Let them know what information or kind of people you are looking for. People love to help as long as they don’t think you are trying to sell them something.
What should I say?
Practice what to say out loud a couple of times, either with yourself or someone you know. If you are self-employed, look up “elevator speech” or “elevator pitch” on the internet to find some resources. If you are exploring new careers, here is some wording I have suggested to my clients: “I’m considering switching careers and I’m talking to people to learn about their job so that I know if their career is right for me. Could I take you out to coffee and ask you about what you do?” If you have identified the job you want, then you could say, “I’m looking to make a change to a different company (or a job as a ….). Could I take you out to coffee to learn about what it is like to work for your company to see if it might be a good fit for me in the future?”
I’m scared – what is the easiest way to start?
Here are some easy options for you:
- Start with people you have already met, like your uncle or your friend’s girlfriend.
- Go to a job fair and talk to the Human Resources staff at the booths. Decide ahead of time what your goal is and push yourself to reach it.
- Go to a business networking function, like an open meeting at your local Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade. Bring a friend if that makes you more comfortable.
- Go to a trade show. Stop at booths that look interesting and learn about their product or service. When you have finished listening to them, and asking any questions that help you to understand their product or service, introduce yourself. Give them your business card and tell them what you are looking for. Keep it to a maximum of three sentences unless they ask you questions.
- Contact people through email to ask some initial questions.
How do I prepare?
- Bring a business card. This is a must if you are self-employed and optional if you are doing a job search. It helps your networking contact remember you either way, so consider getting 100 cards printed up at Vistaprint or your local printer.
- Dress professionally. Wear what you would wear while doing your job, or perhaps something a bit more formal.
- Have a list of questions written down or memorized so that you get the information you need.
What do I do during the networking?
- Try to be the most confident version of yourself instead of pretending to be someone else. Be genuine and truthful.
- Create rapport with the other person. Talk a bit about anything you discover you have in common so that you can create a personal connection.
- Ask your questions and write down the answers unless you have an excellent memory.
- Be conscious of their time and non-verbal signals. Be respectful.
- Ask if they know anyone else that could help you with your quest.
Best networking practices
- If there is a way for you to help the person you are speaking with, by making a connection with someone else or by giving them a resource (for example, the name of a great mechanic or a useful book), do it.
- Do what you said what you would do. If you said that you would email or call, do it within a couple of days of meeting them.
- After a personal networking meeting, follow-up with an email or text to thank them for their time. If you made a good connection, ask if you can keep in touch.
- After a group networking meeting, sort through the business cards and paperwork. Sort into piles: recycling, contact in the next couple of days, and contact in the future.
Go forth and network!