Article by James Micklewright at Micklewright careers.
Without a doubt, the most productive means of securing employment is through referral and recommendations. Statistically, networking far outweighs any other job search activity to uncover career opportunities, and it doesn’t stop at just acquiring a new job, networking or making connections is an important success factor throughout everyone’s career.
Clients normally find this part of their job search to be the most challenging due to their impression that it is taking advantage of friends, colleagues and family. It’s somewhat surprising when you think about the fact that your whole life has been built on developing strong relationships. So, why should your career search be any different?
Remember, in general, people like to help others and are generally happy to provide encouragement and advice if you have the right approach. Most jobs change hands simply by people talking to people.
This informal approach provides you with the opportunity to:
Meetings are more likely to be obtained when contacts see them as opportunities to exchange information, and for mutual benefit that will:
You are doing your best to make introductions and connections that you think makes sense for all parties. You will be doing all the work to make it easy for people to respond and help you. With each interaction, you will be building relationships and trust along with your reputation.
Networking and Networks
Almost everything we know we learn from others. Executives are much more likely to choose those candidates who come to them by way of referrals from individuals they know and trust. Why should they take chances on unknown applicants when they can hire verified assets with proven performance records? Again, everything—including the decision-making process—revolves around relationships. It’s all about who you know and, perhaps more importantly, who knows YOU!
Benefits of Networking
Some of the key benefits of networking:
1. Promoting your objective, qualifications, target market and availability
“Letting people know” – the more people that know of your skills and qualifications and that you are available the more chance you have of exposure to possible opportunities and contacts.
To do this effectively, you need a clear objective of the sector, organisation and desired role.
Your contacts need to be confident in you and believe that you are both qualified and capable before they will risk their reputation by referring you to another contact.
To ensure success, you need to communicate a succinct and effective message that can be easily reproduced to other networks via each contact.
2. Understanding Your Target Market
The more you know about your chosen target market, the better able you are to focus on certain companies. Gathering this essential knowledge will help you to focus on the companies that are the best fit and would employ someone like you.
Information gathered can also be useful to share with other network contacts. However, be careful not to be indiscrete with possible sensitive information from previous meetings.
As you prioritise your target list, you will likely gain specific information which might include key contacts, their interests, personalities, company culture, future priorities and strategic plans. You can obtain plenty of useful information via platforms like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, company websites etc.
This information can be the subject of networking conversations which are of interest to both parties. When you are networking with people employed in a certain industry, they are usually interested in other companies in the same industry. Their interest may be for competitive reasons, to help them do their job better, or because they know that one day they may be looking for new employment. Whatever their reasons, you can usually find significant “common ground” with people who are (or have been) employed in the same industry as you have.
3. Advice and Ideas
If you are talking to someone, more experienced than you are it may be appropriate for you to ask for career advice. Sometimes people enjoy “mentoring” someone less experienced.
Asking for career advice from someone on your level, may not be appropriate as this may cause the contact to question your confidence and suitability for recommendation to other contacts. Asking for advice or ideas on the target market, however, can be very effective.
Introducing a list of target organisations and asking for ideas and suggestions about which ones are good targets can be a very effective networking technique. It may produce target organisations you had not thought of or lead into discussions on specific businesses that enable you to collect useful information. Effectively handled, it may also result in introductions to people inside target companies. All of these are extremely useful in a job search. In discussing these target companies, you must always be clear that job openings or who is “recruiting” is not your primary concern.
Always focus on helping your targeted contacts first. This might take some creative insight and background research on your part, but the rewards are worth the effort. Listen carefully to what they say, ask questions to uncover needs, and follow up immediately with potential solutions or contacts. Serve as a valuable resource, and they will not forget you. In fact, they will go out of their way to get you connected to the right people and the right opportunities.
The key element of networking is the possibility of getting referrals. A referral is an introduction to a new networking contact. These introductions increase the size of your network and enhance your chances of success. Referrals also make new meetings easier to arrange. People are more likely to be willing to meet with you if a mutual acquaintance has recommended you.
Objections in Networking
When you are networking, you will find some people who are willing to talk to you and some who are not. Common objections might be:
They do not know you
Attempting to gain a meeting with a stranger is challenging at the best of times. All the more reason to try wherever possible to meet people through referrals or develop a network contact to get to meet certain people. Alternatively, you need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively a good reason for them to meet with you (this could be some interesting market intelligence you have gleaned through previous networking or information that you believe will be of special interest to this contact or their company).
They do not fully understand why you want to meet them
Especially when they do not know you, people may be concerned that meeting with you could be difficult or unpleasant. You need to put them at ease and reassure them that they will not be under any pressure and communicate that you do not expect them to have a job for you.
Why then do you want a meeting, question people will often ask when you are requesting a meeting. You need to have a well-thought-out response to this question.
When you are attempting to speak to someone you do not know very well, this is a common reaction. Another way of phrasing this is to say that you have not yet succeeded in conveying to them that there might be something in it for them to meet with you. Let them know what they might gain from meeting you, or at least reassure them that the meeting will be brief and pleasant.
Why People Will Meet With You
Because they know you
Friends and relatives will always talk to you, but in a job search, you may need to take extra care to make sure they are comfortable with the conversation. If they have any feeling that you are asking them to do the impossible (i.e. tell you where an appropriate job opening exists or “fix you up” with a job in their company), they may shy away from the discussion.
On the other hand, if you direct the conversation immediately to non-threatening areas, they will remain at ease. The easiest way is by asking them to review your target list. They may have some information on one or more targets or be able to introduce you to someone who is likely to have information on those targets. Not only is this useful, but also initiates the dialogue without compromising them.
A larger group of people will talk to you because a mutual contact referred you. If you are “a colleague of David’s”, or “a friend of Jane’s”, some people will automatically talk to you. You immediately have a common interest in the referring contact.
People like to help other people
It is human nature that people want to help other people. They may have experienced what you are going through themselves and hence can empathise with the challenges of job search. Other people currently in the job search process are likely to be in this group and will help you if they can. In either case, the advice for you is the same: offer them some specific and practical ways they can be of assistance.
You have something to offer
There might be something in it for them if they meet with you. While you are in the process of job searching and networking, there are numerous pieces of useful information and other matters of interest you might be able to offer other people.
What can you share with network contacts?
Information on other companies
People are always interested in what is happening in similar organisations because you are actively doing your business research into them and setting up networking opportunities. The caveat again is to be cautious as to how much information you share as some previous competitors will only want to meet you to try and obtain some inside information.
Card Career Progression Advice
As someone who is currently reviewing, analysing and managing your career, you may be able to offer advice and other information to people you talk to on better managing their careers.
Information on the Current Marketplace
Because you are currently in the job market and looking at the sector overall, you have the most up-to-date information, often helpful for business as well as career pursuits.
A Good New Prospective Employee
People are always interested in talking to talent and may even be looking for someone without mentioning it openly. Therefore, a chance to “take a look at you” without admitting they are actively doing a search for someone new is attractive. They may also refer you to a colleague who is looking for someone, as a way of doing them a favour.
Remember, people who are looking to recruit would prefer to avoid the problems and cost of a recruiter or similar time-consuming recruitment avenues.
You may have thoughts on how your networking contacts can improve their organisation. Armed with specific business or technical knowledge, you may even choose to do some “consulting”.
Some essential requirements for networking effectively:
1. A Clear Objective
You need to be clear with people about what kind of opportunity you are researching.
2. A Statement of Qualifications and Experience
You must be able to state your qualifications and business expereince in a concise and clear way
3. A Target List
You should have a list of target organisations. This list should be representative of the types of organisation that are of interest to you. This list will be an excellent conversation starter and also helps people to understand more fully your objective.
You may not refer to this list at every meeting. However, your awareness of specific companies will help guide the conversation in productive directions and ask questions if the conversation stalls. Talking about specific target companies is non-threatening, comfortable for both parties and very useful. Remember that you are not asking which of them has openings. You are collecting information including names where possible.
4. Research on Your Top Targets
If you have a list of thirty target companies, you should know which are your highest priority and have basic information on your top ten targets. If you are beginning to network in an industry where you have not worked before, it is very important that you do enough research on your targets so that you will be able to have an intelligent conversation about them.
5. A List of Possible Networking Contacts
Ideally a list of 25+ people to whom you might talk. You should include on this list anyone who would be likely to accept a phone call from you, either because they are a friend or acquaintance or because they have heard of you.
Network contacts can come from a whole host of areas such as:
How to Locate Contacts
Experience shows that people can generally list between at least ten people as prime contacts. Think of three concentric circles with you in the middle, surrounded by your spread of personal contacts.
The next circle contains people in your last company – often ignored since there is a natural reluctance to contact people from one’s last organisation. However, they can be extremely helpful in widening the parameters of introduction – there are certain departments which could be helpful in referring you to outside suppliers, for example, the purchasing, marketing, transport department, and so on. Have no hesitation in cashing-in on the goodwill that you have built up in your last company, and in using the individuals there who have contact with the outside world.
Consider the third of the concentric circles as industries in which you have been employed or on the periphery of your career. List the organisations and associations in your field and contact the appropriate people. Arrange all these people in priority order and start at the bottom so that you will have changed your style of approach by the time you get to those with the greatest potential. It is essential that you meet them personally to explain to them your circumstances and what you are asking them to do.
Aim to get a meeting in every case and arrange a sensible number each working week.
What Can Contacts Do?
Arranging the Meeting
There is no doubt that most people find it difficult to set up meetings with contacts.
You should divide your contacts into:
Most people initially script a telephone technique that they use until they feel comfortable. The script should cover the following points:
Preparation for a Networking Meeting
It is essential that you think through and prepare for every networking meeting that you have, even those with friends and relatives. Ensure each meeting you have is productive for you and if possible for your networking contact. Because you have requested and arranged the meeting, it is up to you to conduct the meeting. In doing this preparation, you should think through the following three key questions.
1. Why is this person talking to me?
Consider each network contact and the source of the contact individually.
2. What do I expect from this meeting?
You need to be realistic. While you may hope that you will get referred to an important senior manager, is that a realistic expectation? Think about who this person is, who are they likely to know, what kinds of information are they likely to have, and how strong is your relationship with them. What might you realistically expect?
Information is nearly always a realistic expectation. What kinds of questions should you ask? Should you show this person your target list? Do you want to give them a copy of your CV? Think through your questions and “conversation starters”.
Consider all of your expectations. Plan the meeting accordingly.
3. What can I do for them?
This is the other half of the equation. Once you are clear on what you want, you also need to be clear about what you can offer in return. Whenever possible, this should be a two-way street.
The Networking Meeting
1. The Introduction
Establish rapport through your introduction. Remind the contact of the person who referred you or suggested that you meet this contact. Tactfully communicate that you are not asking for a job but currently seeking information. Have your agenda to hand and indicate you have prepared for the meeting and time allotted.
2. Position Yourself
Give a brief prompt to yourself including your objective, your qualifications and your target market. You arranged the meeting to obtain and share information so give only the information required to prepare the person for the rest of the discussion.
3. Convey genuine appreciation.
Actively project warmth and high energy. Greet your contact in a way that sounds like you’re genuinely happy to see them. What do you want to learn in the interaction? Focus on that so that they can walk away knowing they added value too.
4. Listen with intent.
Being a good listener is about two things:
You’d be surprised how often people don’t listen. People’s minds wander, they’ll be nodding but thinking about what’s for dinner, they might look past the person speaking to see who else is in the room. All of this projects disinterest, a lack of value or prioritisation for the person, that can only hurt the relationship. If you’re talking on the phone, asking specific follow-up questions becomes even more important with no body language or eye contact to read.
5. Use humility markers.
What you say and how you say it can put others at ease and replace nerves with positive energy even in tough situations. Acknowledging your fallibility and human imperfection can go a long way toward making yourself relatable. Especially if there’s a power dynamic where someone is asking for your advice, attention or help, you want to put the other person at ease.
You don’t need to build yourself up any more or explain why you’re important or going to be helpful. Your focus should be on building bridges between your experience and theirs so there are points of recognition, especially if you can naturally work in shared struggles or challenges.
Taking the time to call or meet in person also expresses humility which is paramount if you’re about to reject someone. You want to emphasise that your time is no more important than theirs. When you take the time to be conscientious and human, people are often appreciative and will respect you more.
6. Offer unvarnished honesty.
There are many reasons why people don’t share what they truly think in professional situations. They don’t want to tarnish relationships or endure an uncomfortable exchange or risk being disliked. It’s human nature to avoid these experiences. You can differentiate yourself by being as honest as you can. Just remember to root your honesty in what will have value for the other party, setting a good tone for all future conversations.
7. Blue-sky brainstorm.
Maybe you can’t provide what someone is looking for. But, if you can change the angle or way they’re thinking about something by openly brainstorming with them, you make them feel like they got something special and unexpected. It’s key that you are brainstorming with them, not for them.
Give before thinking about what you get. Always offer something of value before expecting or asking for something in return. Key to this is not focusing on reciprocity. If you find yourself keeping score in your professional relationships, you’re on the wrong track. Instead, make a list of everything you feel comfortable offering others (even if you get nothing back). Perhaps you provide connections or advice or office space or the next step in a process. That way, if you have to say no to one thing, there’s still energy you can contribute.
8. End every meeting or conversation with the feeling and optimism you’d like to have at the start of your next conversation with the person.
Assume you are going to run into everyone again, it usually happens either by plan or coincidence. There are no closed connections as the world is too small. When you do meet again, you want the person to think, ‘Oh great; it’s so-and-so!’ not ‘I guess I’ll get through this somehow.’ If you envision running into this person again and how you want that to go, it will undoubtedly influence how you navigate a present conversation — usually for the better.
9. Don't fake it till you make it.
It may be common wisdom for finding confidence, but it has some negative by-products. Namely, it can be seen to justify ‘winging it’ in important meetings.
Faking it in this context doesn’t mean bluffing your way through interactions that make you feel insecure or intimidated. That leads to bad decision making.
If you want to connect with someone professionally to move your goals forward, you need to know exactly why you care about that person or their company. And you need to know how to articulate it succinctly.
Everyone seems to have a story about a cold call miraculously turning into a career-making breakthrough. This doesn’t happen by magic. It happens because of your diligent preparation powers your sincerity.
If you know you’re going into a call or event and want to make a good impression on certain people, create mini dossiers for them. All it takes is a few bullet points:
Just knowing this much will give you an advantage and help the relationship.
10. Ask for referrals
Once you have asked the questions you came to ask and gathered information, you might make a specific request for introductions. This is easiest if the person you are talking to has already mentioned names. You can now repeat some of those names and ask for an introduction to them.
If no names have been mentioned, now might be a good time to ask for referrals within or outside your contact’s organisation. Be sure to get specific names and titles and confirm how and when you will approach the referrals. Ideally, try to get your contact to make the preliminary contact for you. If your contact cannot think of any people for you to see, you might ask if you can call back in a few days after he or she has had more time to think about it.
11. Close the meeting
Arrange any necessary follow-up. Explain that you will inform your networking partner of what happens in meetings with people to whom you were referred. Conclude the meeting with your thanks and leave at or before the agreed time.
12. Follow up
Send a thank you email or letter and follow up with any promised actions. Keep your networking partners informed of your subsequent meeting with referrals. Plan your next contact with this person.
Make friends when you can, not when you need them.
Give without remembering, receive without forgetting.
Sample Network Letter_1
Client Address line 1
Client Address line 2
Town / City
Tel: xxxx xxxxxxxx
Title Initial Surname
Address line 1
Address line 2
Town / City
County, Post Code
Dear Mrs Turner
Charles Boyd, Financial Director at Royds Hospital Trust, gave me your name. He spoke very highly of you and encouraged me to contact you.
Your extensive knowledge and experience in the healthcare industry would be most helpful to me. I am in the process of reviewing my career, and health care is one of my primary interests to pursue. Please understand I do not expect you to know of a position for me. I would like to meet you and share a few ideas.
I will call you next week to arrange a convenient time for a meeting.
Personal Networking Letter_2
Client Address line 1
Town / City
Tel: xxxx xxxxxxxx
Title Initial Surname
Address line 1
Address line 2
Town / City
County, Post Code Date
It is a long while since we have had an opportunity to talk trade, and I trust you are well.
It is now over two years since Jeremy Paxman complained about M&S’s socks not staying up and going into holes in the toe pouch. Unfortunately, suggestions that M&S have done little to rectify this problem continue to dominate in newspaper articles. I read with interest the FT article on the 26th May on the latest independent figures from market researchers Kantar Worldpanel indicating that M&S now control nearly 27% of the men’s market, yet once again the suggestion that M&S ‘have ignored the warnings of Newsnight host Jeremy Paxman…’.
Working as I have for over 28 years in the men’s, children, and ladies hosiery has given me extensive knowledge of problem-solving and how to reduce stock holding and increase sales by researching the hosiery market with regards to fit, wear and fabric development.
As you are aware, there are several technical approaches to solving problems and sometimes it is worth looking at these with fresh external eyes. It is now over 20 years since we have discussed hosiery and having worked for your company, xxxxx (past M&S supplier), and more recently xxxxxx Socks, I feel I have something to offer.
I would very much appreciate an opportunity to talk about M&S and the trade today and discuss with you how my experience could be useful to your company. I will call you next week to arrange a suitable time for a short meeting.
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