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Using Personal Networks to Your Advantage

By Miriam Salpeter

Even though job seekers are inundated with advice to use their personal networks to propel job search success, it is not always easy to follow through. Social networking complicates the focus on personal networks, as traditional media constantly shares ways people lose jobs via Facebook and networks like it, without showcasing stories from people who found jobs! With thousands of people joining online networks each day, it’s impossible to ignore these tools when leveraging personal networks for job opportunities. The key for job seekers is knowing how to use in-person and online communities without seeming like a desperate job seeker. Read on for suggestions!
Real, In-Person Networks
Just because social media is so pervasive doesn’t mean job seekers should ignore their in-person networks. Advise job seekers to consider any party as a networking opportunity. This includes backyard barbeques, birthday parties, and professional socials. Job seekers never know where they may meet the perfect contact to provide a professional introduction.

However, it’s important not to parade around these events with a virtual “J” for job hunter on the forehead. No one wants to get stuck talking to someone who seems desperate or needy and who only wants to discuss possible job connections. Important points for job hunters to consider when meeting new people in person:

  • Be a listener first. Make every person feel as if he or she is important and valued. Ask a lot of questions. The goal should be to continue the conversation at a later date. People enjoy and appreciate spending time with people who are good listeners and seem interested in them.
  • Learn some personal details about contacts to make it easy to follow-up and keep in touch. (It’s a good idea to advise job seekers to excuse themselves to jot down some notes after conversations.) For example, take note of the contact’s favorite sports team or hobby. In a month or two, send a note commenting on the team’s progress (if it’s positive!) or forward an article or blog post relevant to the person’s hobby. Doing so helps keep the job seeker top-of-mind and reminds the contact to think about possible networking opportunities for the person.
  • It is important for the job seeker to work something into the conversation relevant to his or her search, but he or she should refrain from actually asking for help during an informal gathering or first meeting. For example, “I’m an enterprise technology HR professional focused on finance. I’m actually seeking a new opportunity, possibly in an Oracle environment.” This statement offers information, but does not ask for anything in return. Most people won’t have a great lead or suggestion off the tops of their heads, anyway. It’s better to ask the new contact to meet for coffee at a later time. Resist asking for anything specific until the follow-up meeting.
  • Always ask new acquaintances if they are willing to connect via LinkedIn. (And then follow up right after the event.)
  • It’s easy to recognize if a contact is amenable to getting together. Follow up immediately with an invitation for coffee or lunch. During the informational meeting, job seekers should be sure to continue to demonstrate expertise, but also make it clear what organizations or individuals they would like to meet and request introductions if possible.
  • If the contact offers to “keep his ears open” for the job seeker after an in-person meeting, it means he doesn’t have enough information to know how to help. In that case, re-state job search objectives and suggest companies of interest. It’s up to the job seeker to be sure contacts know what they can do to help. Don’t leave the results up to chance.

Connecting with online personal networks
In many ways, the “rules” for social networking are the same as in-person networking: listen more than you contribute, don’t ask for something before you build a relationship, and give before you expect to get. Job seekers shouldn’t ignore opportunities to use Facebook, where most of their contacts actually know them! Some advice to help job seekers motivate Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter contacts to help them:

  • Maintain complete profiles on all of the “big three:” LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Incorporate keywords to help readers know what the job seeker knows and how he or she can contribute.
  • Use Facebook and LinkedIn status updates and tweets to illustrate expertise. Job seekers should post updates making it clear they understand their targeted fields. It’s easy to find links and data to post online by searching Google or by setting a Google alert. Another way to keep up-to-date about company information is to follow companies via LinkedIn to source details to share on social networks. For example, if someone wants a job in insurance, he or she should follow news sources for regulatory updates and other useful information to share on Facebook. This helps everyone following the job seeker understand his or her interests and field and may make contacts more likely to think of the person if they learn of appropriate opportunities.
  • Occasionally mention a company of interest via status updates, but constantly referring to a job hunt is counterproductive.
  • Present a totally professional persona, eliminating anything the job seeker wouldn’t want an employer to see. This helps friends and contacts see the job seeker as a potential employee or referral.

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