Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Developing A Network

After a very busy summer I am back to blogging, at work we have over 20 clients preparing to start school in September thanks to the Second Career program and at home I am about to enter into my second year of university studies (online) as I continue to work towards gaining a degree in Sociology.

In my last posting I talked about the two types of networks that people have Organic and Rational, here’s the link if you want to refresh your memory, its ok I’ll wait for you.

In this posting what I want to talk about is how to grow and develop your network. Yes you can go through life with a small network that you are comfortable with; the problem with that though is at some point the effectiveness of your network will reach a limit and you can only go beyond that limit by introducing new people. Let’s face it the reason why we have people in our network is because they each bring unique knowledge and experience to help you achieve your goals, whatever they may be, this is also why you are part of their network.

What are your networking goals?

Before we look at building the network, you first need to ask yourself why you are networking; is it to connect with hiring managers that may hire you or is it to gain a support base? The reason you need to ask yourself this question is because the answer will redefine how you go about networking with individuals. If you wish to build a network to find employment then you need to be aware that it is going to take effort on your part and depending on the size of your starting network may also take time to develop and become effective.

If on the other hand you are wishing to develop a support base, you cannot expect jobs leads to start appearing as you will more than likely be connected to individuals that have no connection or interest in providing you with these leads. For example for several years I ran a peer support group for mature job seekers, we had fun, shared information about how to job search, and how to deal with certain issues such as age discrimination. The one thing that rarely happened though was sharing job leads; those that were shared were ones that the individual did not want to apply for as they understandably did not want others in the group applying to the same jobs in order to reduce the competition.

Who are you connecting with?

Now I’m aware that the majority of individuals who are starting to network wish to find work, and that’s admirable. A large number of jobseekers though end up networking with the wrong people, many go to events similar to the one I mentioned above, in the hope that they will hear about lots of job opportunities. As I have already stated though these events are mainly focused on supporting individuals and not with providing job leads.

So if your networking goal is to find a job, then your networking activities should be focused on reaching those individuals within a company that make the hiring decisions and for a number of positions this is not Human Resources. In order to find out who those individuals are you may also need to connect with individuals that work for the company you are interested and ideally work in the same department or are doing the same type of job that you wish to have.

You should also develop a target list of companies that you wish to work for; this will help you to become more selective in your networking, which is necessary in developing a rational based network and will help you to focus on meeting with the people that either make the decisions or are connected to them.

How are you connected to them?

In developing your target list, it is also a good idea to determine how you are connected to an individual. Ideally you would have a personal referral from someone who is connected to an individual within your target company, however for those that are just starting to develop their network this will take time to gain. Another connection you can use is that you and the individual are part of the same professional association or belong to an industry specific group such as those on LinkedIn. I should also mention that LinkedIn is a great way to find people in companies on your target list. The final type of connection that you may have with an individual is that you simply share the same industry. Now if you have recently moved to a new area, this may be the situation you are in, in which case one of your primary goals in meeting with this individual would be to find out who else in the area you should be trying to connect with.

How to approach them?

Now that you know what your networking goals are, who you wish to network with and how you are connected to them; the next step is to reach out to them and arrange a meeting. Career counsellors and advisors such as myself that promote targeted / rational networking approaches recommend sending out an introductory email to the individual followed by a phone call a few days later.

Your initial email should be brief, complimentary and state your connection to them as discussed above. It should also outline what you are looking for career wise and what you expect from them such as a face to face meeting for some advice and assistance; you should not be asking them for a job.

Several days after you have sent your email, which gives them the opportunity to respond, then you would follow up with a phone call. During this call you would essentially restate what was included within your email, making sure to specifically request a call back and to leave a call back number. If after this they still do not respond, then leave them alone for now as you do not want to be perceived as a pest like so many other job seekers.


Two final thoughts to wrap up with, first you need to be aware that like many things in life, building and managing a network requires time and effort. I have seen people give up on this type of networking after only a few days, this type of networking takes commitment.

Secondly once you have cultivated a network connection, do not let it go to waste. Stay in touch with the individual, either through meeting for coffee or via social media tools. The first thing that people stop doing as soon as they find work is managing their network which means that should they lose their job, they have to start this process of developing a network all over again.