One of the single most important factors in a job search is your professional network. Yes, you can find a job on your own by looking for openings, but building and maintaining your professional network increases your chances of finding a job.

Professional Network

What Networking Is

Your network is made up of all the people you know and potential acquaintances you can make through other people in your network. Think about your friends, acquaintances, and family members for a moment. Now imagine that each of them has a group of people they know equally as large as your own. Now think about how many people those friends of your friends know. That’s a lot of people, right? Networking is utilizing connections to create business relationships that can benefit multiple parties. Every time you meet someone, it is an opportunity to expand your network, and being intentional about building your network gives you more chances to meet people who can help you. But why should you pursue networking?

Why You Should Network

Many educational job resources, such as Berkley’s Career Center, are reporting that over half of all available jobs are filled through networking, and there are several good reasons for this. First, you can’t get a job you don’t know about. If people in your network hear about an open position in a field that might interest you, chances are that they will pass on the information, especially if they know you are looking for a job. Keep in mind that many employers choose not to publically post job openings, or if they do, they may not use job hunting resources, but rather their own website. Your connections may save you some time hunting or even let you know of opportunities you didn’t even know existed. Second, having someone the potential employer knows recommend you can do wonders for your chances of landing a job, especially if they know the employer well or are seen as an expert in your field. Third, your network can put you in touch with other professionals in your field that can give you advice on how to be a better candidate and provide you with informational interviews that can answer any of your questions on your industry.

How to Build Your Network

It can be intimidating to ask someone for help with your job hunt, but the good news is that if you have a good network, you probably won’t need to ask. An easy place to start networking is to think of people you know that are already in your chosen field or have previously worked in it. Since these are people you already know, it doesn’t hurt to ask for tips and ask if they know of any jobs or connections. They might put you in touch with an employer or someone else who might know of an opening.

After you’ve exhausted your current connections, find ways to make new ones. Your college’s career center is a great place to start, since the staff members are often contacted by employers looking to fill positions. They may also know of other students or professionals in your chosen field who might be able to help. Usually they also keep a listing of local professional organizations that can build your contacts and even upcoming networking events and career fairs.

You should try talking to faculty and staff about alumni in your field, and join the alumni association as soon as you graduate. They often hold events in different locations across the country, and you never know what sort of resources you may find. Alumni networks are particularly powerful, because most alumni are pleased to help graduates of their school, even if they’ve never met you.

Most cities have general organizations for young professionals as well as industry specific organizations. Most of these associations hold events specifically for networking, and since everyone is attending for the same reason, it makes it less intimidating to talk to someone you don’t know.

Don’t forget to leverage your social media network, too. List your field on each site you use, and look at connections that work in similar fields. Sites like LinkedIn are made specifically for professional networking, so make sure you have a professional profile and join groups in your industry.

How to Make Your Network Work for You

The most important step is to tell everyone you know what your industry and career goals are. You should tell everyone what you do, or what it is you hope to do. Think of anytime you catch up with an old acquaintance over lunch as an opportunity to expand your network.

When you meet people in more professional settings, such as a networking event or career fair, you should have a 30-second pitch ready. This is how you introduce yourself, let others know what you do or you are looking for, and what is unique about you, like certifications or skills. These pitches are memorable and effective, because they give connections more to remember than just a name. Make sure to have contact information prepared, too, so that the professionals you meet can talk to you later.

Make sure to maintain your network. Having connections is only beneficial if they remember you. Losing touch with someone means that they aren’t actively helping you with your job hunt, and it is more difficult to reestablish connections than to maintain them.

An easy way to maintain your network is to help your connections. When you contact someone about job opportunities for them, it gives you a chance to update them on what you’re doing. They will be more likely to remember you, and to think of ways to help you.

Keep expanding your network. The more people you know, the more likely you are to make the right connection to help your career. Build a reputation for being friendly, helpful, and most importantly, professional. If you receive contact information, send a quick note or email a few days after an event. If your contact met many people at the event, they may have forgotten you or confused some of your details. By reaching out, you let him or her know that you value this connection, you refresh them on your details, and you seem courteous and professional.

What Not to Do

  • Don’t be pushy or arrogant. You want to make a good impression. Don’t be timid, either, since you’re trying to sell yourself.
  • While building your network will help you, don’t only think of it in terms of how people can help you. Just because someone isn’t in your field doesn’t mean that they don’t have valuable connections. Don’t think that everyone you meet needs to help you.
  • Don’t hesitate to help others in your network. While networking is not about “trading favors,” someone who received your help is more likely to remember you and want to help you in return.
  • Don’t miss helpful features, such as portfolios, on social media sites
  • Don’t forget to update your connections and social media profiles whenever your career changes.
  • Don’t forget to check similar industries. Maybe you work in banking, but it doesn’t hurt to get to know some accountants that might work closely with other bankers. Graphic designers can benefit from meeting writers.
  • Don’t forget your high school, and if you have a graduate degree, your undergraduate institution. They also have alumni networks that can help you.
  • Don’t ignore what other people are saying when you meet them. You won’t like it if someone isn’t paying attention when you’re talking about what you want to do, so be courteous and learn about other people in your network.
Peggy Carouthers

Author: Peggy Carouthers

In a previous life Peggy worked as a human resources and hiring manager for a major national retail chain. Her expertise is in job hunting, hiring, and HR. These days Peggy works as a writer, crafting content for a range of publications.
Peggy Carouthers