We've all heard the saying: it's not what you know but who you know. And despite the thousands of job listings online, stats show that up to 85 per cent of jobs are actually filled via networking.
Networking (done well) is a great opportunity to present yourself, make new connections, and find yourself a new job. But it if you'd rather give up your first born than attend a networking event, read on. Here are our tips to get the most of networking — hey, you might even start to like it!
If you're feeling nervous about striking up a conversation with a total stranger, then taking some time to prepare can help you feel more at ease. Many networking events make the guest list public. Find out who will be at the event and research anyone you want to meet on LinkedIn before the event. You'll then be better prepared to have some meaningful conversation topics when you meet at the event.
If you're researching others LinkedIn profiles before the event, chances are someone might be researching yours as well. Ensure your online profile is up-to-date and that your headline clearly states your reason for networking. Stating your current position and the type of role you're after is a good start. For example, "Business graduate seeking internship with leading financial services company." That way, if people view your profile they'll have a clear idea of what you're looking for, and might just be able to put you in touch with the right person.
It sounds obvious enough, but how do you know who the 'right' people are? One good place to start is with the organiser or guest speaker. Not only is it a safe bet that they're influential in this circle, but they may also be able to introduce you to someone you've been wanting to meet. While it's expected at networking events for people to introduce themselves, getting an introduction is even better. When someone of authority or importance introduces you, you become important by association. A third-party endorsement gives you added credibility and helps you stand out from the crowd.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but instead of going to lots of different events, you actually want to become a staple at just a couple. Instead of having to introduce yourself to the organiser and attendees every time, you'll at least know one person and will soon start to know the other regulars as well. People will be much more likely to recommend you once they know you better. You'll become well known, your social credibility will increase, and as you develop more meaningful relationships the chances of you making the connection that matters will go up too.
Effective networking is all about relationship building. People are more likely to recommend, help, or want to work with people they like. The first step in developing a relationship is to develop rapport. Rapport is that feeling you have when you feel comfortable around someone else. There's plenty of articles that describe in detail how to develop rapport, but the easiest way is to assume rapport. In short, act as if you're already best friends. Avoid small talk, dive straight into the conversation, answer any questions open and honestly, and ask them meaningful questions like, "What made you get into that field?" or "What do you like most about your job?"
Another element to rapport is to use active listening. Don't just spend the time they're speaking to think of your response. Really listen to what they're saying, ask follow up questions, or share an experience based on what they've said. People like talking about themselves, and they also like people who are similar to them. If you get them talking and show that you have common interests you'll be well on your way to making a meaningful connection.
Networking is a two way street. Everyone in the room is hoping to get something out of the event. Think of networking like a bank account — you have to make deposits before you can make a withdrawal. Instead of focusing on what you can get out of the event, see what you can give instead. Introduce people you think would benefit each other, recommend people's services, or send them an article of interest in their area. The benefit of this is you will become known as a powerful resource, people will start to come to you when they're looking for something. Once you've helped someone else they will be much more likely to go out of their way to help you by recommending you or putting you in touch with the job opportunity you've been looking for.
The most valuable part of networking occurs long after the event. Once you've spent all the time and effort to make a connection, the worst thing you can do is to throw their business card in a drawer and forget about them. Make sure you follow up soon after the event (within 48 hours) and gently remind them of what you're interested in. Then, make sure you follow up again. You have to nurture your new relationships, otherwise they will wither and die. For casual connections the occasional re-tweet or Facebook comment should be enough. For more significant connections, a longer email or a coffee catch-up is needed to keep the relationship moving forward.
If you put these tips into place you'll be well on your way to becoming a master of networking. If you're thinking of taking the next step in your career or making a career change, TAFE Queensland can help you get there. Check out our courses or contact us for more information.