Strategic networking is the ultimate career management tool. Consider it the implementation, make-it-happen component of career coaching. When all is said and done, the career transition you experience will be easier and far more effective if you develop and implement a thoughtful, directed campaign – strategic networking – to take you from where you are now to where you want to be.
If you are unemployed and need a job, strategic networking is for you. If you are employed but want a different job, you still need strategic networking. From the outset of your career, consider strategic networking as integral to your success as performing well on the job. Strategic networking greatly increases the odds of you being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a huge career opportunity.
Never too late to network
The best news about strategic networking is it’s almost never too late to begin, no matter where you are in your career path. Before you do anything, think carefully about what you want out of the time and effort you spend networking. Do you want to develop relationships with people in your industry for opportunities to find out about jobs at different companies? Are you considering changing industries or even careers?
Your answers will determine the types of groups you frequent. Next, research networking groups that you might want to join. These might be in your current industry or a different one that you want to know better. You should network both online and in person. The social media site LinkedIn is an invaluable resource to find hiring managers at companies you want to target, while Meetup.com is good for finding local in-person business networking groups.
Don’t forget conferences and trade shows. They may take place only once a year, but are good for making new contacts, provided you then follow up with those people, even over a distance.
You may need to experiment, but you will soon discover one or two groups that are worth a regular commitment of time and energy. Consistency is critical; attend meetings as regularly as possible. Go with the goal of listening and learning rather than trying to force yourself and your information on as many people as possible. You don’t like a hard sell and no one else in the group does either.
Be visible and helpful
The key to turning contacts into relationships that deliver is to be visible and helpful over time. Always keep in mind that networking is a two-way street, and that before you get something, you have to give.
So share your knowledge generously and look for ways to help out. If the group needs something, volunteer to help provide it. The more you can demonstrate your expertise, problem-solving skills, and reliability when nothing else is on the line, the more likely group members are to recommend you when a job is available.
Done correctly, strategic networking can help you develop such a good relationship with a decision-maker that this person hires you for a job that didn’t exist previously. That’s how you can tap the hidden job market.