Using Your Network for Job Searches
Networking can be the most powerful job seeking and building tool when utilized effectively. A properly built and implemented professional network has the potential to deliver jobs to an individual before that person even sends out a resume. The trick, of course, is establishing and maintaining a successful professional network. Luckily for counselors, we receive an entire graduate education in the techniques necessary for successful professional networking. The following are some brief pointers on how to apply what we have learned as counselors to the art and science of networking.
Learn some basics about networking
Here is a quick overview of some networking highlights:
- Networking is a reciprocal relationship so expect to take out as much as you put in. Information is the commerce in a networking relationship and it is exchanged using the honor system of take-one-leave-one. You provide information for your network and they provide information for you.
- Networking is completely legal and it is an established and essential aspect of conducting business. Check with you local Chamber of Commerce and they will tell you the same thing. In fact, they will sponsor events that specifically cater to business networking. Some Chambers of Commerce even have business networking groups that you can join.
- Networking is not the same as nepotism. Nepotism is bound by familial or friendship obligations. Networking is based on the exchange of information that is mutually beneficial to both parties in a network.
- In networking, who you know matters as much as what you know. If information is the commerce of networking, then it stands to reason that you need to have some information that is of value to a network. For instance, you might have extensive knowledge about the mating habits of polar ice worms, but that will be of little use to other counselors. Learn who is in your network, what their needs are, what added value you can bring, and how you fit into that network.
- You are a part of many networks already that you use on a daily basis. Think about the last time you wanted to try a new restaurant, product, or service in your community, how many friends did you ask for a recommendation? In that example you used your network to gain specialized information regarding a service that you needed.
- Everyone is a potential networking connection. Even your dog can help you find a job. There is no telling who might be out walking their dog and where a conversation in the park with fellow dog owners about your job search might take you.
Know your network
Becoming an effective networker is similar to becoming an effective counselor. You need to know yourself first before you can enter into successful counseling relationships with clients. Likewise you need to know yourself and your strengths before creating a network. Some questions you will want to answer include:
- What do you want to gain from your networking?
- What added value will you bring to your network?
- Are you interested in joining an existing network or create one on your own?
Give more than you take
Networking always works better following the old adage that it is better to give than to receive. Before asking your network partners to send you a referral, send some to them. Think of your network in terms of a bank account. You need to deposit a certain amount of funds before you can start withdrawing and in order to maintain that account you must continue to deposit as much or more than you plan to withdraw. Following that analogy, the more deposits you make, the easier it will be for you to make large purchases in the future. In terms of networking, the more you invest in your network partners, the more you can gain as you start, expand, or move your career forward. Because a networking relationship is reciprocal, there is the expectation, often unspoken, that both parties will contribute to the relationship.
Rapport is the basis to all human interaction. The concept of rapport did not originate with the counseling profession, but counseling has done an excellent job of connecting specific techniques to the process of rapport building. Use your knowledge of attending skills to establish a positive relationship with members of your network. As your network members grow to trust you, they will be more likely to pass that trust on to others that they know in their own networks. For example, let's say that I trust you based on a relationship that you have established with me using your outstanding rapport building skills. I know an employer who trusts me and is looking for an employee. Even though that employer is once removed they are more likely to take interest in someone that I know and trust than someone who is a total unknown. The employer's trust is extended through a network.
Chances are good that one of the reasons you came into the counseling profession is because many people in your life have identified you as a good listener. Any listening skills that you possessed before have only been improved through formal training and rehearsal experienced during your graduate counseling program. Listening works well with your clients and will work just as well with your network contacts. Similar to the goals for listening to your clients, you will want to listen to your network partners to gain information about them and the work that they do.
- What are the important aspects of your network contacts? businesses?
- What are their professional needs?
- What are their professional strengths?
- How do they spend their professional and leisure time?
Names, special dates, locations, events, expertise... Remember as much as you can about network partners. It is also important to remember details about relationships; sometimes it is who and not what your network partners know (sound familiar?). Another important bit of information to remember relates to the system or context in which your partners work. For example, it is important to know whether your network partner is the CEO or the CEO's administrative assistant. Often the administrative assistant will be able to help you more than the CEO herself.
Keep in contact with your network
Chances are that through your training as a counselor, you have become skilled at balancing somewhere between outright harassment and staying in contact with clients who have a habit of missing their scheduled appointments or forgetting payment for sessions. Networking offers you the opportunity to use those skills in a more positive and proactive way. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are all times to remember and contact network members. Emails are quick and convenient, but never underestimate the power of a handwritten card.
Be open to new situations and new relationships
When you attend workshops, professional meetings, or conferences sit among people who are new to you. Find out who those new people are and how they might fit into your network. The larger your network, the more work it can do for you. Start the conversation by asking them what brings them to the event. Spend time asking about them and the work they do, but do not walk away from the conversation until they also have an idea of the your expertise as well. Always remember to exchange contact information with them.
Following through on your commitments to contacts is essential. When you meet a contact for the first time, follow up your initial meeting with a quick note or email. Be brief, but always remember to casually reinforce the possibility of working together in the future. When you receive a referral from someone in our network, thank them every time. Thank you notes are cheap, but the price for losing a referral source can be very high.
During job searches especially, keep your network informed of new developments such as interviews or accepting a new position.
Send thank you notes to all those involved in your job search. This includes employers who chose not to hire you. You might not have been the best fit for their current needs, but they might have another position open later that will fit you better.
Ask for names and titles of everyone you meet in order to target decision makers, but remember that a title does not always clearly identify decision makers. For instance, a clinical director may have less control over her own schedule than her administrative assistant. In that situation, the administrative assistant is the key to accessing the clinical director.
Be prepared to talk about yourself and what you want more than you would when first creating a network.
Adjust your focus
In counseling you apply your attending, listening, and rapport building skills exclusively for the benefit of your clients. In networking, you will use all of those same skills for your own benefit as well. You are essentially building a network for your own well being, for the mutual benefit of partners, and in the end, for the benefit of current and future clients. A well-established professional network makes a difference in the type of work you do and can have a major impact on the services available to clients. When an employer has a choice between two or more candidates, assuming that all qualifications are comparable, the employer will most often choose the person who will fit into the team of employees they already have. They want to hire someone with whom they can have a good working relationship. The best way to demonstrate fit and positive work relationships is to have interactions with potential employers even before the job search begins. When those types of meetings are not possible, the next best thing is to have a strong network partner who can attest to those attributes for the employer on your behalf. Networking is a simple and useful tool that takes much of the guesswork out of the job search for both you and potential employers.
Other Networking Resources
The following websites and links feature tips for successful networking in business environments and career exploration