Networking - how to network effectively

Networking is the continual process of building and maintaining contacts and relationships in all personal and professional fields.

If the time arises, you can call on these contacts when searching for a job, as many positions are filled through referrals from employees within a company.

When should you start networking?

Networking should not start just when you begin to look for a job; you should build up your contacts and friendships as soon as possible, even if you are happy in your long-term job and are not thinking of changing.

You may never know when you are going to need these contacts in the future. It may purely be just to help a friend or member of your family by introducing them to someone that they need to know.

Who should you talk to?

Talk to anyone and everyone. This includes family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, old school and university friends and people that you meet by chance when out and about.

Even though one person may not be able to assist you in the future or vice versa, their son, brother, sister, neighbour or even cleaner may be able to. You never know who they might know, which is why it is best to talk to as many people as possible. This isn't done in one day; it takes time and a lot of effort (unless you talk to anyone and everyone anyway!).

In many cases, you may not even realise that you are networking. Striking up a conversation with a stranger in the dentist's waiting room or on the train is networking, as is attending trade meetings and career fairs.

Networking is fantastic, because, not only do you have your own personal network of friends, work associates and family, but each and every one of them will have their own network of contacts. It's no wonder that networking is consistently quoted as the most effective method of getting a job.

Networking etiquette

When attending networking groups, trade fairs or trade discussions there is a certain etiquette that everyone should follow in order to make the best impression.

They are as follows:
  • Arrive early so that you get to talk to some people in more depth before the event becomes too hectic.
  • Dress appropriately - not too smart or over the top, but don't look like a scruff bag either.
  • Listen to other people, ask questions about their business and offer to help them in any way you can. Networking is a two-way relationship; it's not all about you.
  • Make sure that you have business cards on you and possibly a notebook and pen.
  • Be yourself and don't put on any kind of act. People will more than likely be able to see through it.

Online networking

With the advancement of the Internet, online networking is now extremely popular and there are literally hundreds of professional chat rooms, forums and discussion groups where you can network and communicate with people in your industry.

Search through forums and discussion groups until you find postings that are relevant to your field and particularly those that are well written, intelligent and related. These are the people that you want to target as a potential contact.

Start by making a comment on their post or by asking a question and then take things slowly from there. You do not want to ask for a job immediately or on the forum. This process will take time and you should contact that person directly.

Some people may find online networking more difficult than networking in person, as you will not be able to create the same kind of relationship as when you meet someone in the flesh.

Be careful when making contact for the first time as first impressions do count and you don't want to ruin your chances of forging a good relationship by posting something inappropriate.

The hidden job market

It is said that the majority of jobs are not advertised at all and that people find out about these openings through family and friends, which is why networking is considered such an important tool for gaining employment.

There are a number of reasons why many jobs are not publicised. One is so that companies can save money. In large companies, the figure that could be spent on advertising jobs could run into thousands.

Secondly, from an employer's point of view, he or she would much rather fill an empty position in his or her company through a referral from a trusted friend or employee, rather than have to read through hundreds of CVs, make countless phone calls and sit through numerous interviews.

Bearing this in mind, now's a good time to get networking!

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