October 5, 2001 will always be a red letter day for me. It was the day I was called into HR at my very first professional job after only one year and one month to be advised I was being let go as part of a firm-wide staffing decrease. I was given a generous separation package, including an assigned mentor, Steve, to help me find a new job.
After I scraped my pride up off the ground, called my mom to cry and accepted that it was time to move on, I called my mentor Steve to get started. His first and most emphatic piece of advice was, “Let your network know. Tell them you’re looking.”
How to build your network (preferably before you get laid off)
I was clueless as to what he meant. I was just a lowly staff accountant at a Big 5 accounting firm. We didn’t network. That was for partners and salespeople. My “network” consisted of other second year staffers who went out drinking together on Thursday nights and played flag football on Mondays — in other words, my friends.
As the years went by and my network naturally expanded due to co-workers leaving for other jobs and even led to me being recruited to a new job, I started to understand what Steve was talking about. When I moved to Chicago in 2010 and didn’t know a soul, I took to networking to make friends and find clients for my coaching business. That eventually led to a post as the president of the Professional Women’s Club of Chicago, the premiere networking organization for women in all industries in Chicago.
Networking is just making friends for business
What I’ve realized is that networking is really just making friends in a business setting, and the truth is that the best time to build your network is when you don’t need it. When you’re in a position to help someone else out before you need help, you’re much more likely to receive the help you need when it comes time to ask, even if it’s not from the same people you’ve helped. Basically, it’s karma.
How to use networking to find a new job
Here’s what’s worked for me and my network:
1. First get super clear on what you’re looking for
Before you reach out to anyone with a request that they expend energy to help you, take some time to clarify what specifically they can do to help. “I’m looking for a job in marketing,” is vague enough that even if you do have people willing to connect you, the chances that it’s a good fit for you will be low. Not everyone will be able to help you, but when you make a specific ask, those who are able will be more likely to do so because your ask will immediately bring an introduction or position to mind.
Take some time to clarify some of the following:
Is there a specific role that you’d like to be connected with? For example, “I’m looking for introductions to smaller law firms who don’t have a full-time marketing person.”
Is there an industry or two that appeals to you? Maybe your skill is project management but you’d like to apply that in the not-for-profit space serving certain missions. Say that: “I’m hoping to find a role with a not-for-profit serving animal welfare or social justice missions. Do you know anyone working in that space?”
Or if the market is saturated in your field, consider just asking for introductions to folks who are currently working in the job you’d like to have, as they may have more insights to unpublished roles than just applying to every tech company you can think of.
The easier you make it for someone, especially people who don’t know you well, to do a quick intro, the more success you’ll have with your networking attempts.
2. Reach out to former colleagues Who knows your work self better than people who have actually worked with you? Connect through LinkedIn or just send them a note to let them know you’re looking and see if they know of any opportunities.
3. Use those professional associations Almost any professional career has some type of association that posts jobs and other networking opportunities. CFP® professionals have the CFP® Board, CPAs have state societies as well as the AICPA, lawyers have local, state and even the national bar associations, marketing people have the AMA, and IT specialists have CompTIA. The list goes on. Even if you’re not a member, check their website to see if they have job postings or upcoming events where you can meet others in your field.
4. Look to your alma mater Pretty much every major city has an alumni group for larger universities. Look on your school’s alumni website to see if they have any local events coming up that you could attend to make new connections.
Even if there is no local chapter, you may still find job postings or at least a listing of other alumni in your area. Reach out and ask for coffee or lunch. You never know who your fellow alumni may know.
5. Just show up Virtually any situation where you’re meeting new people can offer networking opportunities. The next time you’re invited to an event where you feel like you might not know anyone besides the host, consider going anyway and set a goal to just meet three new people that you would want to connect with later over lunch, tennis, a crafting workshop, etc. That takes the pressure off feeling like you have to work the entire room and even if you don’t find your next job, it’s good practice for networking at events designed for job seekers in the future.
6. It bears repeating: be specific about what you want My friend Marcy wrote in her brilliant book You Know Everybody!: The Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works about how to zero in on exactly what you’re looking for before asking for help. Make it easy for people to connect you to others by being very clear about who you want to meet or what you want to do.
It’s much easier to flip through your mental Rolodex and offer an introduction when someone says, “I’m seeking introductions to sales managers in the hospitality industry,” than when you hear, “I’m looking for a job in sales.” Unless I’ve just spoken to someone who said, “I need salespeople!” it’s unlikely I’ll be able to help you find what you need in that situation.
7. Bring your best self, but still be yourself
Above all, remember to be yourself when networking. It can be nerve-wracking to introduce yourself to strangers, especially if you’re desperately seeking a new job opportunity in order to pay your bills. Keep in mind that pretty much everyone else in the room is probably equally as uncomfortable and find your common ground there. Then just work on making friends. You never know where it might take you!
Want help shoring up your finances so you can be ready for a career change? That’s something I help my 1:1 coaching clients with! My coaching is 100% unbiased, I don’t take a percentage of your investments or get any commissions. Learn more here.