Job Search and Career Networking Tips

If you're looking for a job, networking is the most important thing you can do. Most jobs--over 70%--are found through career networking. Even if you're not looking for a job at the moment, networking is still vitally important to career growth. Plus, if the unexpected occurs and you find yourself suddenly unemployed, you'll be glad to be part of a wide network of professionals who can offer you their support. One way or another, devoting regular time and energy towards building a healthy career network is a very good idea.

Why is Networking Important?
The vast majority of jobs are found through networking--over 70%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you're out of a job, chances are you know someone who knows someone who works for a company who's hiring. The wider your network, the more possible opportunities become available. But the usefulness of your network isn't limited to just finding jobs. Your contacts can be priceless resources who can provide you with information, references and referrals, or career advice.

The vast majority of people out there are professionals who know what it's like to be in your position, and who are willing to help in any way they can. Not only that, but each member of your network will have an entirely different set of skills which could be incredibly useful to you. Your old classmate who lives across the country might be an expert at resume writing, for instance, and may be willing to look yours over and offer you advice. Or your second cousin may be a skilled web designer who can help you finesse your online image. You really just can't tell what tricks your network has up its sleeve until you connect and ask!

Who Shouuld Be a Part of My Career Network?
Opportunities have a way of showing up where you least expect them. With this in mind, you never know which contact will be the key to a valuable opportunity or connection, so you'll want to include a wide variety of professionals in your career network. These professionals could be your extended family members, current or former co-workers and bosses, friends and acquaintances, fellow members of business or trade associations, classmates or alumni from your college or university, or professionals you've met via online networking sites. There's really no reason to be too exclusive or picky; you never know who might be helpful in your career path, so it's best to be open, friendly, helpful, and willing to connect with as many people as possible.

Of course, you'll want to use your discretion. Some people have a habit of sending online contact requests to thousands of strangers, thinking it will land them a new job immediately. This is not necessarily a great idea. Contacts are most valuable when they actually know who you are and what you're capable of. Strangers in distant cities will probably not be terrifically eager to recommend you to their boss (although there are exceptions to this).

Stay Connected
All too often, we fall out of touch with our contacts, and only reconnect when we need help. This isn't the image you want to put across. Career networking works best when you maintain a consistent presence and regularly check in on your contacts--if only to say hello. The closer you stay to people, the more willing they'll be to help you when you need it.

You Will Get What You Give
Yes, your career network can offer you a boatload of help and resources. But it's important to understand that you can't expect something for nothing. Your contacts will become exponentially more helpful to you as you become more helpful to them. If you want someone to write you a positive recommendation, for instance, you'd be wise to write one for them first. If you see a job posting at your company, share it with your contacts. Who knows, you may be the key to someone else's job search, and sometime down the road, the network will reciprocate that good deed back to you.

Stay Organized
As your list of contacts grows, it can be easy to get confused and lose track of who's who and what's what. Devise a system of organization for yourself--it could be on paper or on the computer. Make sure you know who your contacts are, where they work, and how to contact them if you need to. Otherwise, you might not be able to access some of the most valuable aspects of your network.

Online Networking Sites
These days, career networking is easier than ever, thanks to online services like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and other networking sites. These websites allow you to create a profile which details your skills, training, and accomplishments. You can then use this profile to connect with other professionals, companies, groups, and organizations. This online network makes it easy to stay informed and organized, and allows you to connect with a much greater number of professionals than would otherwise be possible. If you aren't already a member of these networking sites, you should sign up immediately. It's a fairly easy process, and is becoming more and more expected of today's professionals, no matter what their industry may be.

Networking at Events
Online networking certainly hasn't replaced face-to-face networking completely. Most professional and trade associations hold regular meetings and events, which can provide valuable opportunities to meet industry leaders and fellow professionals. When you attend these meetings, you'll likely find most of the people there are just like you: eager professionals who are willing to connect and help each other out. Exchange some business cards, shake some hands, and you'll find your professional network expanding considerably.

Many colleges and universities also hold events for alumni. These events are also priceless networking opportunities. Your old classmates have all gone on to work in a wide variety of fields and companies, and many of them will likely be able to offer you all sorts of help. Be sure to take advantage of these networking opportunities whenever they crop up.

How It All Comes Together
Once again, you can never tell where opportunity will come from. Your next job may come from a casual conversation with a receptionist at your doctor's office, or from a job opening at your aunt's company. Once you take your place in your professional network and start acting as a present, participating member, you'll find that the possibilities are unlimited, and that there are countless opportunities waiting for you which you would have never known existed before. Here are some examples of how networking can bring people and opportunities together:

  • Melissa was interested in a career in education, but her training was in a different field altogether. Luckily, her friend's mother worked at a school who was hiring entry-level assistants. The connection was made, an interview was arranged, and Melissa is now working at the school and earning her teacher's certification at night.

  • Curt was unemployed and having trouble finding work. He created an online profile and started making contacts. It wasn't long before an old high school friend, whom Curt hadn't seen in years, told him about an opening at his company. Curt applied for the position and had a new job within a week.

  • Reed's company was downsizing, and Reed was unfortunately laid off. However, his brother-in-law had found a job working at an environmental energy company years before, and was able to offer Reed a job immediately after he became unemployed.

  • Rob was the manager of a restaurant downtown. He saw on LinkedIn that his friend Jack was looking for work. Luckily, the position of head waiter had just become available, and Rob was able to forward the job listing to Jack the very same day. Jack interviewed and proved to be the best candidate for the position.

The list could go on and on, because there are an endless number of possible connections between you and the professional world. The key to finding these connections lies in your professional network. So start building yours, and you'll be amazed at the opportunities that come your way!

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