Job Hunting? How to Network with Intention

Job Hunting? How to Network with Intention

A colleague of mine recently found himself in the job search after a long time with the same company, where he had advanced to a senior management position over the course of several years. Needless to say, he’s a little out of practice. When I spoke with him recently, he told me he’d applied to 72 online job postings and not received a single response.

While (I hope) this example represents an extreme case, it illustrates a common flaw in the approach taken by many job-seekers. An isolated search-and-apply strategy that doesn’t leverage personal contacts has a low success rate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 70% of jobs are found through networking. Another survey puts the number at 85%. Clearly, networking should be a key element of your job-search strategy.

But your time is precious and you don’t want to waste it on small talk and business cards that end up in a pile on your dresser. Here are four ways to make networking a more intentional practice that will become more fulfilling than tedious.  

Define Your Objective

What do you want? Like many things in life, an effective networking strategy begins with the answer to this simple question. The answer might seem obvious if you are working in a specific discipline and want to stay in the same role. But for those looking to make a career switch, it’s important to be clear on the type of role you’re seeking.

Even if you’re staying in the same role, you want to think about the type of organization you want to work with. Make a list of companies or organizations that you’re interested in and look for common themes. You might see patterns based on industry, technology, size or stage of growth, market focus, or other attributes.

Defining your job objective clearly, in terms of the role and the type of organization, helps you in three ways when it comes to networking: 

  • It helps identify the people you’ll get the most value from talking to. 
  • It brings focus to the conversation and the questions you have, resulting in more productive interactions. 
  • It makes it easier for your contact to think of a referral for you to continue the discussion.

Seek High-Quality Interactions

Once you’ve clearly defined your job objective, you’re ready to start having meaningful conversations with people. There’s a distinction here between meaningful conversations and the kind that usually take place at networking events where people engage in brief, superficial discussions, exchange business cards, and move on. While these events can be useful for meeting people, what you’re after is a deeper discussion with people whose professional interests are aligned with your own.

Start by making a list of people you know who are either working in your target role or are employed by one of the organizations you’ve identified. You can reach out to former coworkers, managers, professional acquaintances, or anyone who knows you well enough to accept an invitation to talk. Most people enjoy talking about their work and are happy to help out. If you’re just starting out in your career, consider joining a professional association, and look to friends, classmates, and professors as a place to start.

When you have these conversations, remember that they are not job interviews. They are, in fact, informational interviews. The other person should be doing most of the talking, and if you find yourself answering questions, that’s a sign that you’ve lost control of the conversation. Bring the discussion back to your purpose of learning about the role, the organization, and the insights that this person has gained from their experience. 

At the end of the meeting, be sure to ask this question: Who else would you recommend that I speak with, given my areas of interest? If they’re able to give you one or more names, then ask if they would be willing to make an introduction. This is the most effective way to extend your network and build momentum in your networking activity.

Don’t Forget to Follow Up

One of the enduring lessons I learned from my mom is to send a thank-you note to people who have done something helpful. (She still prefers handwritten notes, but email is fine for the rest of us.) Etiquette aside, the thank-you email is a chance to reiterate your job objective to the person you spoke with so they can remember to let you know if they come across any job opportunities that might be of interest.

But don’t stop there. Set a calendar reminder to send another email in 4 to 6 weeks. Find a reason to reach out to them. It could be an article or blog posting to share, or your own thoughts or observations that are relevant to their work. Use this email as another opportunity to remind them of your job objective.

Focus on the Process, Not the Result

Finding a job is a journey, but it’s easy to become fixated on the destination. Looking for a job takes time and energy, and it can be stressful, especially if you are not currently employed. It’s natural to want to focus on the result under these circumstances. But this mindset can be counterproductive. It can close you off to opportunities or ideas that you might not have considered. And it can cause a subtle shift in the dynamics of your networking conversations, from collaboration and sharing of ideas to asking for a favor.

Instead, set yourself a goal for the number of quality conversations you want to have every day or week. Initially, this might be just 2 or 3 per week, but it will grow as you build momentum and your network expands. Approach each of these conversations with an open mind, and remember to ask for a referral to expand your network. Your mindset during a job search can be a fertile time for seed-planting: the people you meet and conversations you have may stick around throughout the rest of your career.