Networking is often cited as one of the key determinants of a successful job search. Many have found that if done right, it could transform an average career into a remarkable one.
According to a 2017 LinkedIn Global survey, almost 80 per cent of professionals said networking was important to career success. In 2016, 70 per cent were hired by a company where they had a prior connection.
However, despite acknowledging the importance of networking, 38 per cent said they find it challenging to stay in touch with their network, mostly due to a lack of time. Only 48 per cent said they kept in touch with members of their network when things were going well in their career.
Indeed, most people only realise the importance of career networking when they’ve lost their jobs. But during a crisis, getting back on the networking wagon is even more challenging as the individual has to not only deal with getting accustomed to reaching out and getting to know others, but also with the emotional upheaval of being laid off amid a crisis and trying to get a job in tough economic times.
People are also more likely to help you if you’ve made an effort to build and maintain a relationship with them. Seeking them out only when you need something from them isn’t ideal.
So whether or not you’re actively in search of a job or business opportunity, networking should be part of your larger career strategy at all times. You should see networking as an integral part of your daily work day. It should be an activity you engage in for not only job searches, but to learn more about your field of expertise, another industry you’d like to work in or to achieve progress in your career.
The good news is that it’s never too late to get started.
While meeting for coffee may not be as easy as it was before the Covid-19 era, there are many effective ways of engaging and expanding your network even during this time.
WHO TO START WITH
Past colleagues, managers, supervisors, clients and customers are the usual go-to people. But cast your net wider. Think of all the people you’ve ever met, not just in the course of work, but perhaps when you volunteered at a non-profit organisation a few months/years ago, or someone you attend exercise classes with. Perhaps they own a business or work in a field you could go into.
Include family members, friends of family members, former classmates, schoolmates, teachers, professors and essentially anyone with whom you’ve had a productive conversation about work and careers.
Don’t discount people who work in other industries as they may be able to offer perspectives you hadn’t previously considered.
WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR THEM?
In reaching out, always bear in mind that networking is not just about the value others can add to your career. Often, starting by exploring how you can add value to others gets better results. It’s a two-way street. It’s about sharing, helping each other achieve your respective goals and building relationships. People are more likely to go the extra mile for you if you’ve been helpful to them over the years.
If you come across a relevant article or job listing, share it with the appropriate people in your network. If you have a connection that could be helpful to someone in your network, don’t hesitate to make an introduction. Even though you may not have a job at this moment, you’re likely to have resources that can be helpful to others. Ask what you can do for others, listen to their pain points and offer solutions if you can. They’ll be more likely to reciprocate.
WHAT CAN THEY DO FOR YOU?
Keep in mind that you’re not just in search of job leads. Referrals, expert information on career fields you’re thinking of exploring, getting a fresh perspective, advice on where to start your job search or tips on how to make your resume stand out would be valuable.
NETWORKING IN THE COVID ERA
Use all electronic means available – LinkedIn and WhatsApp messages, e-mail, etc. However, conventional greetings such as “Hi, I trust that you’re well.” or “How are you?” don’t cut it during this period. More and more experts agree that during extraordinary times, messages should be more personal and authentic.
Perhaps start by sharing how you’re coping with changes in your life and ask the other person how they are holding up. However, be careful not to make a plea for a job in your opening message. Initially, the objective should be to reach out and let others know you’re thinking of them during these globally challenging times. Be sincere and authentic about helping them in any way you can. Progressively assess the other person’s openness to discussing your career or their own.
SET UP VIDEO CHATS
Video calls have made it easier to establish connections remotely during this period. Being able to see the other person helps. While on a video call, let the other person in. Perhaps show them your current WFH environment, discuss how you’re coping with the changes and ask them about their situation. Listen carefully and always think about and express how you can help the other person before requesting help for yourself.
INCREASE YOUR PRESENCE AND ENGAGEMENT ON PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING SITES
Simply congratulating members of your network via LinkedIn when they reach a career milestone or get a new job can make an impression.
Beyond this, share interesting articles, contribute to trending conversations in your field by writing and publishing articles of your own, comment on others’ posts and articles, participate in online debates, or thank someone for writing an insightful piece.
All of this will get you noticed. Again, remember to engage with people from other industries who may have transferable skills, expertise and connections that could edify you in ways you never thought possible.
JOIN ONLINE GROUPS
With Covid, even more informal professional groups have been set up online. Some industry-specific job search groups can be helpful, but also join groups that are predicated on general thought leadership threads that are of interest to you. You never know who you might meet and end up developing an enduring professional relationship with.
Even in the best of times, we had to be understanding of others’ work demands and allow a reasonable amount of time (one or two days) for people to get back to us.
Covid has dramatically transformed many people’s jobs and lives. Among those who have jobs, it’s common for them to be working extra hard to hold on to it.
While sending them reminders is a good idea, make sure you space them out so as not to come across as a nuisance. Perhaps send them something new every other week or so.
Most of all, bear in mind that even if your outreach efforts don’t culminate in a job immediately, cultivating relationships is valuable. You never know when you’ll need someone in your network and when they will come through for you.
DON’T BE FIXATED ON ONLY ONE THING
As you build relationships, keep an open mind. Perhaps you went in with a desire to get a lead on a full-time job. But during challenging times, job leads aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. Open yourself up to other types of opportunities. For instance, someone in your network could be looking for a short-term contract worker to help his/her company with a specific project during this period. Consider offering your services at a special rate. This strengthens the relationship and could lead to other career opportunities in the near future.
KEEP IN TOUCH
As we said at the start of this article, don’t just spring into action when you’ve been laid off or are looking for new opportunities. Keep in touch with your network regularly in all the ways we’ve mentioned – send them a brief note to say “hello”, congratulate them online when they’ve achieved a career milestone, share articles with them, etc. Remember, it’s about building long-term and enduring relationships. Also, always be quick to offer your help. Helping others is gratifying and invites reciprocity.