‘A group or system of interconnected people or things’ – this is how the Oxford dictionary defines the word ‘network’. But how big should this group be? How should you go about building your web of connections?
I address these and other related questions in this article about job search-focussed networking and provide some tips on how to optimise your career progression through consistent and well thought-through networking efforts. Say, for instance, you have been looking for a job for quite a while and you have been doing it via submitting your CV on various job sites or through recruitment agents. But, unfortunately, to no avail. Or you got bored with your old job and would like a change. In these and many other cases, networking could be the key for you to succeed in attaining these goals.
I believe that the broader you spread your networking ‘net’, the more people you are likely to touch and be able to fall back on when the time of need comes. Some networking experts would disagree and claim that it is not the number of people you know but the quality that counts. Quality is also essential of course – you could, for instance, get to know only a few senior managers from your target company. But would they help you understand what is happening on the ground? Would they be able to share an unbiased opinion of what the working environment is like on say, the middle management level?
Perhaps, but you are more likely to get a thorough understanding of the company if you aim to establish connections with people from all different levels of seniority including more junior employees across different departments. To accomplish this, you would first need to map out and understand the structure of the company in great detail.
So the first ‘S’ of efficient job-focussed networking is:
– Structure. You should aim to research the company’s organisational structure and ideally, draw out a diagram representing the layers of management, departments and reporting lines. I recognise that it can be a challenging and, sometimes, seemingly impossible task, but there are many different ways to source this information. Search the news, press releases, company website, LinkedIn and you will gradually start filling the gaps and the missing links on your organisational map. Keep updating and refining it on a regular basis and you will soon end up with a good representation of the target company’s structure including the names of the people you might want to approach.
Similarly to any other worthy pursuits, you should strive to allocate a certain amount of time each day to your networking efforts. I would even go as far as to suggest that you should consistently aim to devote at least an hour per day to developing your network but it all depends on your personal ambitions and the speed with which you want to expand your connections. So now we have arrived at the second ‘S’ of efficient job-focussed networking:
– Sustained effort. It is crucial to put in sustained regular effort into building your network. It is no use, for instance, to research five companies in one day and then give up until resuming the work a month later. You could aim to prepare a plan – possibly in Word or Excel – where you can input the newly acquired information making it easier to track your progress and expand the information at a later stage. You could add the contact details for a person, their industry of expertise, their position and brief details of your personal relationship with that person. You should try not to leave the document unupdated for more than a few days.
Although you should always aim for a bigger and broader network, you should also be careful not to spread your efforts too widely. You would want to include people who are relevant to your job search so, for instance, it wouldn’t make much sense to research a local supermarket unless you are aiming for a career in retailing. Once you have compiled your initial contact database and started getting to know people, make sure you approach them on an ‘informational’ basis, to learn more about them, their experiences and ask them for advice and guidance. Don’t take people for granted and make sure you keep a close watch on your phone conversations, emails and personal meetings to prevent producing the negative impression that you are just trying to get a job.
So here comes the final ‘S’:
– Put all your networking efforts under close scrutiny to impress your contacts, to gain as much knowledge as possible about them and to avoid the ‘just to get a job’ attitude. Keep track and log all the key points and learnings from your conversations and change the direction immediately once you spot the warning signs. Trying to be sincerely interested in the other person, wanting to understand how their company operates, asking for their advice and being grateful for their time would help you build a rapport with you contact and make them more inclined to talk and help you in the future.
I would be interested to know your tips for successful job search-focused networking. Please feel free to share your examples and experiences.