Yes, you already know that networking is the best strategy for opening doors to new employment opportunities. But what you may not realize is that networking alone isn’t enough to catapult your career.
First, let’s define networking so that we’re all on the same page. At a basic level, it’s building a community of people who help one another by sharing information. And despite what you might think, you likely have a robust network through your current and former work colleagues, neighbors, friends and family. Further, you’re likely benefitting from it regularly.
Think about it. Everyday you’re engaging this network when you ask for a movie recommendation or where your friend got that great haircut. At work, you may tap into the water cooler talk to hear the latest on the new product rollout or learn that the Marketing Department is consolidating under Sales. It’s a natural part of daily life, yet when it comes to the job search, networking transforms into a dreaded task.
It’s true, networking in a job search can feel like it has higher stakes. It’s your career after all – a major part of your identity, the source of your income and how you express your professional talents. Of course it’s a big deal!
This is all the more reason to make building your professional network a priority — your career success relies on it as one of three primary factors, which include:
- Exceptional abilities
- A strong brand
- A network of ambassadors
As an introvert, I used to convince myself that having a stellar track record of accomplishments and producing a consistent, high-quality experience for others (e.g., #1 and #2 above) was enough to reach my goals. However, I soon learned that these only took me so far. Career decisions were being made when I wasn’t in the room, and I was missing out because the decision-makers didn’t know about me and the value I could add. I hadn’t created a strong network of ambassadors who could advocate for me in my absence or bring new opportunities to my attention.
Don’t make this career limiting mistake where the only information you have is what’s in your inner circle. With 6.3 million job openings available at the start of 2018, that’s a lot of information for one person to farm.
Here’s how to get started on building a team of ambassadors:
- Start with the people you know. Being vulnerable is easier with people that you already trust. These are the individuals who are closest to you and who want to see you succeed. Make sure they know enough about your career, goals and abilities to be a strong ambassador. For example, if your best friends or neighbors know where you work, but not what you do, now’s the time to educate them so they can be fun BBQ companions AND help keep an eye on your career success.
- Be consistent. In my last “Ready, Set, Switch!” article on brand (see here), consistency was a key factor in building trust. Afterall, if Tylenol only worked to reduce your headache some of the time, you’d quickly move on to a pain reliever that was more reliable, and you surely wouldn’t recommend it to others. To ensure consistency, first decide which skills, traits, and values are most important to your career brand, and then engage in behaviors to demonstrate these every time you interact with others.
- Engage a second-level contact strategy. One of the most powerful ways to build your network is to connect people from your circles who may not know one another. You can ask others to do the same for you by introducing you to their 1st level contacts (your second-level contacts). LinkedIn is a useful tool for uncovering where mutually beneficial relationships might be.
- Recognize that everyone takes his or her turn. If you’re still resisting putting yourself out there when networking for a job, remember that the average tenure in a role today is 4.2 years, which means that most of your contacts will cycle through the job search process several times throughout their careers. So, they’ll be asking you for similar help at some point in the future. When you take a long-term view of networking, you begin to see the reciprocity that can sometimes get lost in the moment.
- Make it a part of daily life. Ask yourself, what one extra step can I take today to build an ambassador? For example, follow up with that person you met at the conference. Spend an extra 15 minutes after the speaker concludes to meet a few of the audience members. Use your lunch hour to really get to know the new Human Resources Representative. Spend five minutes each morning scrolling through LinkedIn to see what your contacts are up to and comment on their posts. Opportunities are everywhere if you pause to look around.
Once you gain momentum in networking, it begins to feel more natural as you find strategies that work with your personality and schedule. And once you begin to see the benefits that result from building ambassadors, you may start to see it as one of the most important professional activities of your career.
For more tips from the “Ready, Set, Switch” series, click here.
Reposted from: Forbes.com