Top 5 Networking Tips For Job Seekers

By Jeff Gillis

Being skilled at your job, having the right qualifications and work experience and having a finely tuned cover letter and resume are all excellent tools to have in your job seeking tool box, but there’s one tool that too often gets overlooked…networking to find a job.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know…it’s who you know.”?

When it comes to job seeking, knowing the right people and leveraging those relationships responsibly through networking can make your job seeking quest infinitely easier.

Knowing someone who knows someone else can help move your finely tuned cover letter and resume out of the massive computer sorted “submission” pile and into the hands of the hiring manager, which in turn can help transform you from job seeker to gainfully employed.

Proper networking can also mean hearing ahead of time that a department is hiring, or that a job you’ve been angling for is opening up…even before the listing is posted! In many cases, solid industry connections are just as important in the quest for a new job as the skills and knowledge you bring to the table.

But what exactly is job networking?

In a nutshell, it’s about making genuine contacts and building long term relationships with other people who can either help you directly or connect you with others who can.

Often these relationships can lead to future jobs and opportunities that might not otherwise present themselves.

Solid networking can lead to things like referrals, advice, connections, and professional support.

Of course, in order to use networking in your job search, you have to first build your network, and that starts with a little bit of homework and introspection.

Building a Job Search Network

To become a master of career networking, begin by first identifying what you ultimate employment goal is.

By knowing exactly what you’re looking for, you can begin identifying the people who can help make that a reality.

Keep in mind that your contact list is bigger than just the people you’ve worked with in the past or that you’re working with right now. Your list should include people from all across your social network as well as any groups or organizations you socialize with both personally and professionally.

Good places to look for potential networking contacts include:

  • Groups you play sports with or clubs you belong to.
  • Classmates.
  • Social gatherings.
  • If you’ve graduated, look into your Alumni club.
  • Friends of friends (ask for referrals or introductions).
  • Your church, synagogue or mosque.
  • Military organizations including veteran’s programs.
  • Neighbors.
  • Relatives.
  • Volunteer organizations you’ve worked with.
  • Professional organizations.

Of course, this is just a partial list. The possibilities for networking are almost endless and are limited only by your imagination and desire to reach out.

The next step is to start connecting with these people. When it comes to job searching, there are two ways you can do this…the softer more socially casual “informal” way and the more professional, structured “formal” way.

Informal Networking

With the informal way, you’re reaching out to your personal contacts and asking them for advice and help with your job search. This method is an excellent way to start out your job searching and can also be used to help build your network as the people you’re talking to might be able to further introduce you to others who can continue to help you as well.

The nice thing about informal networking is that it can be done in just about any situation. Casually mentioning to someone that you’re actively seeking employment and looking for any advice or help they might have can be a great way to start a conversation.

Formal Networking

The formal way of professional networking involves going to business specific social events, meetings or associations. Often there are others there who are also networking. Use this to your advantage by talking with others and exchanging business cards and contact information. If you’re not comfortable going to these events, you can also participate in formal networking online via job forums and career networking websites as well as social media platforms.

Regardless of what approach you take, the key to successful networking is to make sure that you treat all your networking contacts with genuine appreciation and professional respect.

Always thank them for all their help, both in person and with a follow up note, either handwritten or via email. For those contacts who asked you to keep them posted on your job searching success, be sure to do so and let them know how it’s going.

If you get a job, they’ll be happy to celebrate with you. If you’re still having trouble finding employment, a gentle reminder might spur them to provide more assistance or introduce you to a new contact.

Most importantly, make sure your networking road goes both ways. Always make yourself available as a potential resource for other members in your network when it’s their turn to look for employment or when they ask you for help.

5 Common Networking Mistakes

While properly executed networking might make your job searching easier, it’s also easy to make networking mistakes…and those could potentially make your job searching harder.

Make sure you avoid these five common networking mistakes:

1. Not networking now.

Networking is something you should be working on continuously, not just when you start your job search. Building your network means building solid relationships, and those take time.

By waiting until after you’re in a job seeking situation, you’re telling your network contacts that they’re only good to you when they can help you…which makes them less likely to want to help you at all.

Start cultivating your network before you need it. This gives you time to develop genuine relationships with people.

2. Not being patient.

In many ways, this goes hand in hand with not networking now. Aggressive networking where you expect immediate results can not only be frustrating for you, but can be a major turn off for the people in your professional network.

Rushing your networking can also make you appear desperate, another turn off for your contacts. Meaningful connections and genuine relationships will get you much further in the long run…but it takes time.

3. Not utilizing your network properly.

Job networking isn’t a skill everyone comes by naturally. It can seem awkward talking about your career and job search.

While it’s true that one sided conversations – where all you do is talk about yourself and how the person you’re talking to can help you – are horrible and don’t often work out well, you also don’t want to swing in the opposite direction and have a conversation with a great contact where all you do is make small talk about nothing really at all.

The key is to find a happy medium between discussing your career goals and not talking about yourself at all. All good conversations, like relationships, are about give and take.

4. Not thanking your contacts.

Always make sure you thank you contacts for their time and resources.

Start by ending any conversations with a genuine thank you and then follow up again with a note, either hand written or via email. The last thing you want your contacts to do is to feel as though you don’t value them.

Leaving a networking contact with a negative impression can not only cause you to lose that contact, but can have ripple effects if they tell others about you.

5. Not returning the favor.

This is another big no-no. Networking should never be a one way street.

At its core, networking is a give and take. Always be prepared to give back to your professional networking connections. Helping others in your network will make it more likely for people to remember you – and want to help you out in return.

Top 5 Networking Tips For Job Seekers

Now that we’ve covered what networking is, how you can use it to help secure a job and what the most common mistakes you can make with your network are…let’s wrap it all up with our top five networking tips:

1. Work on your elevator pitch

With all this networking you’re getting ready to do, you never know who you’re going to end up talking to, or how they can ultimately help you in your job search quest, which is why having your elevator pitch perfected and ready to go is absolutely critical. 

Working on refining your elevator pitch should start even before you start your networking.  No, really…it’s that important!  We’ve covered elevator pitches in depth so this is just a quick overview. 

Remember, a good pitch is a 30-60 second summary of who you are, what you do, and why you’re the perfect candidate.  That’s it!  Nothing more, nothing less.  It might sound easy, but it takes practice…which is why you need to start on it early in your networking process.

2. Send out job networking letters

In the age of instant messages, chats and tweets, it’s hard to believe that old fashioned letters could still be a part of networking, but they are! In fact, sending out just one well written networking letter can be more valuable to your networking goals than a hundred tweets! 

Now, before we go too much further, remember… a networking letter is NOT a letter you use to ask for a job. Networking letters are letters you send out to friends, friends of friends and professional contacts asking them for career advice, introductions, job leads…anything and everything that will help you in your professional job search. 

Again, this is networking, and you’re reaching out to your current contacts in the hopes that they’ll be able to connect you with others in your chosen industry, so keep your letters friendly, professional, and brief.

3. Join professional organizations

We touched on formal networking a little earlier in this post and wanted to expand on it further here. 

For just about every job imaginable, there are associated professional organizations that you can join.  Many organizations have social mixers, professional development seminars and workshops. 

They’re also the perfect place for you to look for a mentor as many organizations offer programs where they pair younger members with industry veterans.

Attending these events are an excellent way for you to meet other like-minded individuals, learn about trends in your industry and keep up breaking information, ad if you’re in the right spot at the right time, learn about unadvertised job openings. 

4. Update your network frequently and stay in touch.

Remember that list we made earlier of your professional networking contacts? Make sure to always keep it fresh and updated.

That means reaching out to your network on a regular basis and touching base. Even if it’s just a friendly hello and a quick call to catch up, showing genuine interest in what they’re doing is all part of the relationship building.

It’s also a great opportunity to update them on how you’re doing and what’s going on in your world. You never know when a simple friendly call to say hello could turn into a conversation that leads to your dream job.

JEFF'S TIP: It's not enough to simply hand over your business card with your phone number and email on it. You need to make sure that your personal profile is fully built out, and that includes the appropriate social channels (LinkedIn at the very least). But you should also consider creating your own website, because it will greatly assist in your networking efforts. Click here to learn how a personal website can help you network better and get more job offers!

5. Conduct informational interview

Unlike a formal interview where your goal is to secure a job at the end of the conversation, an information interview is essentially a casual conversation between you and someone who is working in the field or industry you’re interested in. 

Rather than the conversation revolving around what you bring to the table, it’s an opportunity for you to get advice and information.  Not only will you gain valuable firsthand insights into the job and industry you’re interested in, but you’ll also potentially end up with insider knowledge you can apply when writing your resume and cover letter and later on, interviewing. 

Ultimately, you’ll want to build a relationship with the people you conduct informational interviews with that will extend beyond just a single meeting or two.  By developing rapport and a genuine connection, you’re connecting with professionals who may be able to forward you job leads or introduce you to the people who will be able to hire you in the future. 

Do your research ahead of time to determine who the best people are for you to contact.  Reach out to them and let them know what you’re doing and why you’re interested.  Often times people will be willing to talk to you about their careers if they feel you’re genuinely interested in their advice and suggestions.

For a more in-depth look at informational interviews, check out our blog post!

Putting It All Together

Networking can happen anywhere at any time. By expanding your horizons, you’re opening yourself up to new worlds of networking opportunities:

  • Volunteer at charity events sponsored by the company you want to work for.
  • Donate your time to an organization that has ties to the corporation you’re planning on applying to.
  • Join an intramural sports team or take art classes at your local community center.
  • Walk dogs at your local shelter or participate in a charity fund raiser.

No matter what you do…talk to people while you do it! You never know who is standing behind you at the coffee shop or next to you in line for popcorn at the movie theater. Be social and engaging and genuine, and above all, be you.

Never forget, this is all about getting you, the perfect candidate, your dream job!

While it’s great to make friends and enjoy networking socially, remember, this is all about you and your future career. While networking might seem like a lot of fun (and yes, it absolutely can be!) it’s also about you as a professional.

Make sure you always have copies of your polished resume and business cards on hand. Remember to do your research on who you’re meeting with ahead of time, and make sure your elevator pitch is solid.

Dress appropriately, refrain from being too casual, and above all else, remember to always follow up and be appreciative of any and all help you get.

And, as always…

Good luck!

About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.