I’ve gotten lots of career advancement advice over the years.
A lot good.
And one I never understood:
”Use your network.”
I could never figure out what steps were involved to “use my network.” So I ignored the advice. No great new opportunities rained down on me, but I wasn’t surprised.
Then one day I learned how to network to new opportunities.
I was helping a friend of mine on the East Coast. John was a career HR person, mostly in the CPG industry. He was looking for a new job, and getting discouraged. John was getting interviews, but not getting to the offer stage. Finally I asked him, “What specifically are you looking for?” and he replied, “You can’t help.”
I pressed again, and John said, “I’d love to get into HR at Apple or some other high tech firm on the West Coast.” And then he repeated:
“I don’t think you can help.”
I laughed. I told him one of my best friends has a family member who works in HR at Apple.
Then it dawned on me.
You never know unless you ask.
That revelation made me realize, I was the same as John. I wasn’t riding my network to new opportunities because I was assuming my network couldn’t help me.
The secret to “using your network” is telling your network what you’re up to and asking for help.
Since then I’ve been amazed at how my options have opened up by giving an update and making a simple, clear request.
That's all it took.
Here’s how to network to new opportunities
Divide your contacts into these groups
Close colleagues and trusted mentors
People you were close to, but lost touch with
People you don’t know well, but that could be good contacts for new opportunities
People you’d like to meet
Identify what you need
Make a list of what you’re looking for. For example:
Names of recruiters
Introductions to contacts in businesses you’re interested in.
Job hunting advice
Help with resume writing
Potential investors for a new business venture
Remember: You have to make a specific request to get specific help
Start with your close friends, mentors and colleagues
The easiest way to get traction is to start with the people you know the best.
The risk of rejection is low, and you’ll gain the confidence and momentum to engage with people outside your comfort zone.
Call or email them and explain your status and ask for help.
“Joan, I’m getting ready to look for a new job and I need some help. Do you have any recruiters you could refer me to? Or friends at Acme manufacturing?”
Next connect with the people you lost touch with
If these were people you were once close with, they’ll remember you and want to help. Start by sending a note and asking for an update.
“Greg, how are you? It’s been a long time since we worked together. I made a resolution to be more connected, and wanted to see what you were up to. I’m still at Smith Bros Accounting Firm. I’d love an update.”
Rekindle the relationship. After 2 or 3 exchanges, if all is well, then tell your contact what you’re up to and ask for help.
Expand to people you don’t know well and ask to meet or ask for advice
Once you start actively networking, you’ll start to gain confidence, and it will be time to broaden your reach.
”Maggie, we met a few years ago at the annual networking event. We were both panelists, but on different topics. I would love to connect and hear what you’re up to. I think we may have some opportunities to join forces.”
Build a relationship and when the time is right, make your request.
Use branding by association.
Use your connections to get introduced to people or businesses you don’t know. Branding by association is your network’s branding extending to you.
“Rick, I know you’re friends with Tom. I’d really like to meet him and see if there are any opportunities to at his firm. Will you make an email introduction for me?”
Personal referrals are like gold. Your network is you, amplified.
Cold connect with someone you’d like to meet.
Now that you’re a confident connector, take one more step: Network with a connection that you don’t know. Do some research on what you have in common and then reach out:
”Susan, I’ve been reading some of your most recent posts on LinkedIn. I’m a colleague of Bill Smith, but in a different industry. You just wrote a piece on networking that was really provocative. Would you have time for a talk? It looks like we have a lot in common.”
Never assume your network can’t help.
Activate your network and create new opportunities.
Not every connection will get a positive response, but if you keep using your network, your network will continue to expand.
So will your opportunities.
You just have to ask.
Networking to New Opportunities
Want to take your career to the next level?
Check out the The Career Toolbox page for more practical tips and tools.
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Photo / Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network 2014 - Austin on Flickr