Whether you're job hunting or building a business, networking is essential to the process. It can help you reach potential employers you might otherwise miss, connect you to valuable resources and help you increase clients and customers.
Starting from scratch
If you are just joining the workforce, or changing careers, start by identifying the kinds of jobs you want and develop your resume to reflect your skills and strengths. Depending on your background and experience, you may need more than one resume, each focused on different career opportunities.
Before hitting the pavement, create or update your LinkedIn page. LinkedIn is considered the essential tool for networking and will be the first place most employers will turn to learn more about you. Take time to research how to get the most out of your free LinkedIn account and consider taking advantage of the free trial for a premium account.
Once you know what you're looking for, you're ready to begin networking.
Leave no stone unturned
Mark Granovetter's classic study of 282 men in the U.S. found 56 percent credited their jobs to networking and proved "it's not what you know, but who you know."
If you're graduating from college and seeking your first career position, now's the time to access your parent's, friend's and former educator's contacts. Don't be shy about asking them to query their friends, family and professional acquaintances for job openings.
If you've volunteered with organizations, let those folks know you are job hunting.
Share your resume and follow up on any leads with a personal phone call.
Connect on LinkedIn to each of these groups and their professional connections.
According to James Turner, who has worked for the past five years helping military veterans re-enter the workforce, "We tell our veterans to extend their LinkedIn network through second level connections. This online resume tool is essential... ninety-four percent of recruiters will vet candidates through LinkedIn."
Also consider ignoring rules you use on other social media and accept connection requests from people you don't know. At least view a request's professional profile and evaluate for possible networking potential before declining.
You too can be a groupie
Join professional groups online related to your area of expertise, industry, alumni, professional societies, passions and social causes. This will give you stronger connections and let others know more about your brand when viewing your profile.
Then look for events these groups are sponsoring and attend as many as possible.
In metro Atlanta a quick online search turns up an extensive list of networking events posted to Eventbrite. Most are free to attend. Your search will also find links to Network Under 40, Network After Work, Atlanta Women's Network and more. Also check with city and county chambers of commerce. Most offer monthly networking events.
Before you head out the door
Whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, you can prepare and make the most of networking events.
First, clean up your brand. Employers will not only look at your LinkedIn account. Use appropriate images across other social media platforms and adjust privacy settings if necessary.
Print resumes and business cards. For as little as $10 you can order 100 cards. Include your name, phone number, email address and your LinkedIn profile web address. Have at least 20 resumes with you just in case, more if you're attending a job fair.
Plan to dress professionally in a suit unless you already know the attire is more casual. You can always remove a jacket or tie later, but it's better to be over-dressed than under.
Show up ready to conquer the world.
According to Real Property Management Business Development Manager David Draddy, who uses networking events to build his business, "Stand up front and greet people as they come in. Act like you know what you're doing and help people find the bar or the restroom. You will automatically meet more people."
You might also consider officially volunteering to help a networking group.
If you're unsure where to start Draddy suggests, "Look around and find the loudest person in the room. He or she will be able to introduce you to everyone."
Don't just shove your business card in everyone's face.
As you start to meet people, remember everyone attending is there to make connections. Listen first. Talk later. Always ask what they do first. Then have your 30-second speech ready. Ask open-ended questions (who, what, where, when and how) as opposed to the yes-no kind.
Draddy suggests, "Listen with the goal of learning something and discover ways to collaborate. Focus on making mutually beneficial relationships." As a future employee or a business connection, look for unique ways to help the person you're meeting build their business.
If you've met someone you'd like to follow up with, trade business cards. Turner advises his veterans to take a moment to jot something on the back of their business card before exchanging. "Write something that will help them remember you. Make it something relative to your conversation. It could be you talked about a recent vacation, your branch of the military, or you both know the same person." The next day, when flipping through the dozen or more cards collected the night before, they'll be able to link your card to your face.
Follow through quickly on referrals and send thank you emails within 24 to 48 hours. If job hunting, include your goals and strengths and why to hire you. If building your company, mention unique ways you can help build their business.
Make relationships, not a reputation.
Finally, avoid obvious mistakes... don't drink too much; if everyone is standing, don't be the only one seated. Also, don't monopolize the conversation.
Simply remember to be genuine. Actively show your interest in other people and focus on building a meaningful bond. Who knows? Some of these people may become co-workers or lifelong friends.
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