By Alaina Levine
If you are looking for a job now or think you might be some time in the future, the one secret to successfully landing a position might just be in who you know—or who you get to know.
Of all the tools in your job-search toolbox, networking should be at the top of your to-do list. Networking is crucial because it can give you access to jobs and other career-advancing opportunities that might not always be advertised.
Networking, which encompasses appropriate self-promotion, makes you known to decisionmakers who once they recognize your value can choose to engage you as an employee. Not only will these individuals think of you first for a position, but in some cases they may even create a job specifically for you based on your singular-value proposition.
The thought of networking can make people extremely nervous, especially for those individuals who are making professional connections for the first time. Here are 10 things to keep in mind as you begin to make career-enhancing connections:
1. Recognize your value to prospective employers. You've gained a list of marketable skills and experience while pursuing a degree and adding work experience to your resume. Participating in extracurricular activities, internships, philanthropic opportunities, and even personal endeavors could have taught you a lot, too. Step One on the road to finding a job should be making a list of all these activities and noting the skills you used to be successful in each.
Those skills might range from the broad, like being an effective public speaker, to the specific, like being fluent in Spanish. Being able to clearly communicate your value by the abilities you bring to the table is important, because you never know when a networking opportunity might present itself. With this list fresh in your mind, you'll be able to represent yourself well even if your resume is nowhere in sight.
2. Get specific about what you can (and want to) do. Some candidates take a scattershot approach to finding a job by applying to every open position they see. I advise a more targeted strategy. Before launching your job search campaign, sketch out the broad outlines of the position you'd like to have by asking yourself such questions as: What skills do I have that I enjoy using? What tasks do I enjoy doing?
Identify such major and minor career goals as wanting to work in local government management or living in the Southwest. Then do an analysis of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) to identify parallels between your interests and goals and your skills. Being able to articulate what you can do and want to do, and why, will be a valuable tool in making sure that your networking efforts steer you in the right direction.
3. Get real about who desires you. Your degree title does not necessarily determine your job path. The fact that your degree is in public administration doesn't mean the only positions you can fill must have the word "administrator" in the title. Many organizations and industries hire people not because of their degrees but rather because of all the skills and abilities they acquired while learning that subject. The point is, your career opportunities are much more expansive than what your college adviser may have told you.
With this in mind, you will have to find out what organizations do want employees with your skill set. This will require thoughtful research and, of course, networking.
Review job boards to research organizations and positions. Conduct Google news searches for company info, then start reaching out and networking to conduct informational interviews. Ask questions about the types of problems that are solved in organizations that are on your radar.
Look for and be open-minded about where you can leverage your personal value proposition in a position there. And don't be afraid to say, “I know how to do that. I can help you,” even if the interviewers say they are looking only for people with a major and experience in X and you have a major and experience in Y. This is a perfect example of how networking can help you create your own opportunity.
4. Organize and update your marketing materials. Whether you're networking or going after a job by the conventional application route, your resume, cover letters, brand statements, business card, and LinkedIn profile and other social media site content need to be ready to go. Keep these important materials up-to-date as you prepare to market yourself to potential employers and collaborators.
5. Invest in and get comfortable wearing the proper attire. When you go on an interview and to networking events, you will need to wear professional clothing. Like it or not, people do judge books by their covers. Your clothing should help you to feel confident, so don't wear things that you haven't worn before, know don't fit correctly, or could give someone the wrong impression of your dedication to your career.
6. Tidy up your online presence. Whether you are reaching out to a person for an informal conversation or applying for a job—or even if you've just met a potential contact at the gym—the first thing the other party is going to do is Google you. Then he or she will look at your social media profile. If social media contains any photos of you drunk on the beach or rants on blogs concerning politics and religion, now is the time to remove them.
Update your LinkedIn or social media profile with your current summary statement, experiences, skills, and education, and add a professional-looking portrait. Be sure to use a headline that is creative and expresses what you can do for a potential employer. And then change your privacy settings accordingly, so that your profile is public. Other social media sites like Facebook, which are more about social interaction and less about being professional, should be set to private—with the caveat that even with a privacy setting, nothing you post is ever entirely off-limits to potential employees and colleagues.
7. Then actively use social media. LinkedIn is currently the main social media channel that is considered to be a professional marketplace, so you should be present there and be seen as a valuable contributor. Join and be active in relevant groups: observe, contribute, and connect with members and demonstrate your commitment to the field. Do keyword searches for jobs, people, and organizations and use the "Find Alumni" tab. See "Who's Viewed Your Profile" and if someone you especially want to connect with has done so, invite them to connect and let them know you noticed that they have looked at your profile.
This is not sleazy or sneaky in any way. People literally get jobs because they take this step. The “Who's Viewed Your Profile” feature is often overlooked and underused. Remember, if someone has a profile on LinkedIn, they too want to network with new colleagues. You might even consider investing in LinkedIn Premium for a few months, which unlocks more features on this site, including a more complete list of who has looked at your profile.
8. Look for opportunities to demonstrate your brand. You want to share with the world what you do, how you do it, and how it can help them. This is the essence of networking and appropriate self-promotion. So seek out opportunities to spotlight your brand and demonstrate how you can solve problems for others. New graduates and individuals with experience can and should appropriately promote themselves. Start by looking to speak at conferences; meetings held by regionally-based chapters and meetings; business organizations; and mixers related to government, policy, and business.
Write an article for your professional association publication or the newsletter of the field in which you're interested. Volunteer to serve on committees for your professional society, local business groups, and charities. If there's a conference or colloquium nearby, offer to drive a speaker to and from the airport, which will give you amazing face time with this professional and excellent networking ROI.
9. Engage in high-impact networking. To get the most bang for your networking buck, look for networking "nodes" where high numbers of people aggregate. Networking nodes include events, professional societies, conferences, websites, and even individual people themselves. Here's a tip: Identify people you would like to network with on Twitter and see who is following them.
But don't stop there. Ask your trusted mentors for referrals of people with whom you should or could be speaking, seek out fellow alums and friends, and peruse directories of professional societies. All of these avenues can put you in the path of decisionmakers.
10. Tap into your institution's career resources. Even if you have already graduated, your alma mater's career center may still be open to alums. It probably will have job listings, but it may also offer professional development webinars and host networking affairs in concert with the alumni association, which you should definitely join. If one is available, scroll through the alumni directory to find fellow alums with whom you can network and have informal conversations.
Speak with your current and former mentors, fellow students, and even staff and postdoctoral associates in your department and let them know you are looking to network for career opportunities. Finally, here's an underused tip: Check out your institution's online calendar for the last year to see what events have taken place and what representatives from your target profession have spoken on campus. If you see, for example, that Ms. X from City Y was a speaker in the public administration department last year, contact the committee chair or department head and ask to be introduced.
As you network, remember not to make the process all about you—even though your desire for a steady paycheck no doubt feels urgent. You'll be much more successful if you seek to craft win-win partnerships with individuals to whom you can offer some value, and vice versa. Find out what their needs are and think about how you can assist them with their problems.
And as you begin to identify people with whom you would like to speak, be proactive in initiating meaningful contact. In most cases, this will mean writing a short e-mail to ask for an informational interview. This may be all that is needed to start a partnership that will land you your dream job!