Employer-competitive candidates stand out by making themselves visible and selling their strengths. They’re clear on their search goals, the value they can bring to their target jobs, and the importance of increasing their visibility to help them reach those goals.
An estimated 70% of jobs are not advertised, according to CNBC. So think about networking as a focused process for finding the next opportunity.
Successful networking involves building relationships, and that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and consistent effort, but it will be worth it!
- A chance to learn more about an industry and what employers are seeking.
- An opportunity to gain visibility and make new connections.
- A chance to describe your interests, skills, values, (which will help you in a real interview).
Networking is NOT…
- Asking for a job.
- An interview for employment.
- A guarantee of employment or employability.
- Just a business card swap at a meeting or conference.
- A stockpile of connections on LinkedIn.
- Make sure your profiles look polished on platforms like LinkedIn, Angel.co, and others.
- On LinkedIn, Facebook, and other platforms, follow companies, thought leaders, and professionals in the industry. Learn how to do this here: Follow, Unfollow or Mute People. Engage with these companies and individuals through likes and comments on their posts.
- Look for alumni groups for your current or past organizations and educational institutions.
Anyone can create an online presence, but in-person networking requires effort. In-person networking allows you to feel like you belong and deserve to be heard (Forbes). This helps you focus on sharing your knowledge and expertise rather than trying to prove yourself.
Step-by-Step Networking Guide
Identify Your Current Network
You may have more people in your network than you realize. Use the categories below to help you think about who’s in your network and how you might reach out to them.
- Friends, sports teammates
- Former colleagues or supervisors
- Professors, academic cohort
- Volunteer or other connections, etc.
Expand Your Network
Consider the following approaches to expand your network:
- Reach out to every person on your networking list above and send them your materials with a specific ask. “Asks” can include a quick chat on the phone for advice or a lunch date to talk about your target industry, as well as recommendations for who you should connect with next.
- If you’re currently employed, ask your boss for projects that require you to interact with new departments or individuals. For example, you can propose helping the company enhance its website. In doing so, you’ll interact with other developers and/or the marketing department.
- Find volunteer opportunities. Get involved in an organization or group that interests you, and offer to contribute some of your new skills. You may meet people who can be helpful.
- Create business cards that include your target role, links to online profiles such as LinkedIn, and a QR code to scan for your resume or CV.
- Continue using LinkedIn weekly to connect with employees and decision makers. Look for secondary connections. Send personal messages about your passions and common interests, and request informational interviews.
Attend Networking Events
It’s always helpful to set a goal when attending networking events (e.g., “I will have three meaningful conversations that may lead to potential follow-up,” or “I will not leave until I have entered into at least five conversations.”) Establishing a goal allows you to set a measurable standard of success for an event, which can help change your experience of networking into a positive one.
TIP: Always bring business cards to events. On the back of cards you receive, take notes about the people you speak with so that you can follow up.
Here are some additional tips that will help you differentiate yourself at an event:
- Master the use of tech language – The better your vocabulary (especially as it relates to your industry), the more impressed people will be. Being confident, articulate, and knowledgeable will help you create a strong first impression.
- Eye contact – Always maintain eye contact when you’re speaking with someone. Looking away can make you appear less confident. And remember to smile!
- Leave personal space – Don’t stand too close. Keep a reasonable distance.
- Acknowledge your understanding – When someone else is talking, acknowledge that you hear them with non-verbal body language such as nodding.
- Wait your turn – Successful professionals are also good listeners. Give people the chance to complete their thoughts before offering a response.
- Watch body language – Mirror the body language of the person with whom you are interacting. If they sit down, you should sit down too—they may be ready for a longer conversation. Try not to cross or fold your arms. That may make you seem guarded. Overall, be mindful of body language.
- Be curious – Open the conversation with questions. Focus on the other person first and convey genuine interest.
If you’re new to networking events, check out our events page for networking support in both upcoming and past events.
“Networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about cultivating relationships.”
Networking is only effective if you follow up! After meeting new contacts, follow up with a personal message .
When reaching out, whether via email or phone, here are a few tips:
- Remind them how they know you. Always begin by referencing a common person, event, educational or work experience, organization, or award that creates a common bond.
- Be clear on what you bring to the table. Express interest in the person’s work, and express how you can add value rather than asking for something. Sharing interesting articles, making introductions to helpful contacts, supporting the contact’s endeavors, and engaging with their LinkedIn posts are great ways to add value.
- Be flexible with scheduling. Make it easy and convenient for the contact to say yes to connecting again!
- Do your homework! Research your new connections to help you better foster a genuine relationship. LinkedIn and general internet searches can provide access to information on your targeted connections.
- Don’t give up, and don’t take it personally. Some people hesitate to reach out again for fear of being ignored, rejected, or seeming like a pest. It’s okay if someone doesn’t take you up on your offer. If you reach out regularly, you’ll get more accepted invitations than passes.
- Breathe, and stay calm. It’s perfectly normal to be nervous about calling people. Networking is a skill that requires practice. It may help to practice calls with friends or family. It may also help to remember that you’re not calling to ask for favors — you are asking to learn from someone. Most people love sharing their expertise!
“The richest people in the world look for and build networks. Everyone else looks for work.”
Request Informational Interviews & Seek Mentors
Informational interviews are your opportunity to explore if your goals and/or current opportunities really are the right match for you. They’re also great ways to expand your network.
Before the Interview
- Research the individual: use LinkedIn, Google, or personal connections to prepare.
- Prepare a list of questions (at least four).
- Review a list of conversation starters for informational interviews, and have a few ready to go.
- Prepare your elevator pitch and visit this Elevator Pitch Guide to support you.
- Plan to “wing it”: while these are not job interviews, preparation is needed.
- Script every second of the interview: you need to build an organic relationship as well.
- Assume the other person will lead the conversation or listen to you talk the entire time.
During the Interview
- Smile, make appropriate eye contact, and lean forward.
- Ask questions to demonstrate interest and active listening.
- Find a personal connection through interests, passions, or hobbies.
- Listen for ways you may be able to help or volunteer.
- Use varied tones and volumes to demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm.
- Describe work you’ve done that relates.
- Complain about previous employers or peers.
- Dominate conversation.
- Answer questions with one word answers—be concise, but be thorough.
- Look at your phone during the conversation.
After the Interview
- Jot down notes to remember the conversation.
- Write a thank-you email.
- Follow up about once a month with updates.
- Follow up too frequently (more than about once per month).
- Text a thank you. This should be more formal.
NOTE: Informational interviews should lead to more interviews, volunteer or open-source projects, or ideas about new directions. (Informational Interviews are not conducted in certain markets or regions such as Mexico.)