|The important elements of networking can be summed up in four simple steps:|
Networking comes in many forms – everything from meeting an old friend for a cup of coffee to ask how she likes law school, to having your best friend's father put in a good word for you at his company, to meeting with an alum from Saint Mary's to learn more about a career in social work.
The Wall Street Journal reported two years ago that 94% of successful job seekers claimed that networking made all the difference for them. Networking is a powerful way of building professional relationships. It is a process of actively fostering contacts and creating ways to disseminate information. There are two basic goals to networking – greater visibility and increased information.
Many people hesitate to contact others for fear of imposing or asking for help. The reality is that most people are happy to do something for someone else, if asked. The mistakes most candidates make is not preparing sufficiently for each meeting.
Where to find people to network with
There are many ways to identify networking contacts. Here are some places to find folks who know something about a field, an organization or a school you are considering:
- Career Services and the Alumni office can provide networking lists
- Your own extended family
- Your friend's parents and other family members
- Your professors, advisors, coaches and tutors
- Your former bosses and your friend's and family member's bosses
- Members of clubs, religious groups and other organizations to which you belong
Common networking errors
Problems occur when a job-seeker only goes through the motions of contacting others. It is not enough to just meet someone and conduct a 15-minute interview or ask others for a lead or to pass along their resume. Whether you are approaching a colleague, a friend, a family member or a stranger, how you present your purpose will make the difference between a satisfying or unsatisfying experience. Come prepared.
Networking contacts can tell you what it's really like (from their perspective) to work in a given field or organization. They can help you understand the skills and education needed to get into and be successful in a particular field. They can give you "insider" information on an organization, such as who is in charge, what it takes to succeed in a particular position, how to customize your cover letter and resume to get noticed, and how to market yourself effectively. Every once in a while, the person with whom you are talking will offer to help move your application along. Whether that happens or not, the information you can gather is essential in helping you sort out your options and present yourself more effectively.
Thank the contact and make plans to meet again. Keep the contact aware of your future career moves and ask about their plans. This process of nurturing contacts will sustain and enhance your career.