Networking is a way to actively seek out jobs through contacts with friends, relatives, and professionals. It is a great way to get ahead of the competition when you are finishing school or changing jobs. The purpose of networking is to gather a list of contacts now that might be able to help you with your job hunting at some future date. Remember that your objective should be to gain support in your on-going job search, not just to get a job. In negotiating today’s job market, as in navigating any new terrain, it is wise not to go alone. Meeting with fellow professionals is the best way to explore options, gather information, and better understand how your strengths can be used in the job market.
Do your research - This is usually the most overlooked element. In your research, you should identify the most interesting and fertile employment areas in order to give your search direction and purpose. Carefully prepared questions and statements based on this research are critical.
Know who you are, what you have to offer, and where you want to go – This will help you choose your "guides," the people who will be your primary leads to other contacts, sources of information and direction.
Seek out contacts - Think of everyone you know and everyone you meet as a networking prospect -- and as someone you can assist if needed.
Find people who do what you want to do – Investigate companies where your "ideal job" could be located. Read descriptions of careers you may wish to investigate.
When calling a "cold contact" – Write down what you plan to say in case you get nervous and forget your "lines." Before you end your conversation, make sure you have the correct spelling of his/her name, the correct job title, mailing and e-mail addresses, and fax and telephone numbers.
Be prepared – When you approach a contact, know what questions you want to ask and decide in advance how to ask them. Do you want to know more about that person’s field or career path? Do you want to know what types of employees that person’s firm hires? Are you trying to learn about the requirements for a posted opening at the person’s firm? Ask your contact if you may forward your resume to him or her and, if the contact says yes, send it promptly, along with a cover letter referring to your conversation.
What to say – Say that you are calling for advice and information about how to enter the career field. Ask the contact to review your resume and to remember you for future reference. Before you hang up, ask him/her to refer you to two or three other people who might have some helpful information.
Be brief – Keep your networking conversations brief, and always thank the contact for his or her time.
Other people who can be contacts – Join the campus or local chapter of the professional association related to your field, attend as many meetings as possible, and volunteer to help with activities in any way you can.
Be organized – Keep a careful record of whom you’ve contacted and what was said in the conversation. Follow up with your contacts once every four of five weeks. Even if there is no opening now, there may be one a few months down the road.
Personal qualities – Be genuine, confident, positive, and enthusiastic in all your networking communications.
Follow up – Every letter and meeting requires extensive follow up. You cannot expect business executives to track you down. Calling or sending follow-up letters is a must. Common courtesies such as a call to confirm an appointment and thank you note are appropriate. In thank you letters, refer to specific information or assistance the contact contributed to you.
On-going contact – Stay in touch with your contacts on a regular basis. You’ll often find that "old" contacts have new suggestions. When you complete your search, reconnect with all of your contacts, thanking them and informing them of your success. Nurturing these contacts can only enhance your network, which may be needed again in the future.
At the meeting:
Keep in mind that the purpose of networking is to explore options, gather information, and cultivate other contacts – not shoot for specific positions. That will come later.