I couldn’t talk about a job search without mentioning the importance of networking. If the trick to the success of a restaurant is location, location, location, then the rallying cry for job-seekers ought to be network, network, network!
People often say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That tells me that I need to know people. The best way to meet them is to actively network and grow your online presence, create an outstanding profile and use LinkedIn to connect with other professionals and job-seekers – and attend networking events.
Truth be told, it’s not solely about who you know; it’s actually about having a strong combination of connection and knowledge. Yes, there’s still a “good ol’ boy” network, but it seems the trend of hiring solely on that premise is (thankfully) diminishing. It may never be totally eradicated, but if you learn how to network effectively and present yourself in the best possible light, then you’ll have accomplished a great deal towards being hired on your merits and capabilities, not just because you were the college roommate of the current executive in charge of hiring decisions.
Learning how to network effectively is a delicate art. It balances just the right amount of confidence without being cocky; assertiveness without being aggressive; and purposeful application instead of just “winging it.”
Networking should be strategic. The connection should benefit both you and those you meet or your potential new employer.
Networking is learning how to sell yourself, to show or demonstrate yourself as an asset to the other party: “You know, Bob, I increased my previous employer’s sales by over 30 percent during my tenure, and I’d like the opportunity to do the same or more for you.” Use the opportunity to explore what his needs are and show how you can help him in that area.
For networking events, you should develop business cards with your contact information and hand them to people you meet or may want to get to know. And keep others’ cards so that you can make a connection later. You never know what person or connection may come through. There’s always someone out there who knows somebody who knows somebody who has a need for a person just like you!
Potentially, the most difficult part of networking is just getting out there, either in cyberspace or in the real world. We’re not used to speaking about ourselves, let alone promoting ourselves; this is a huge obstacle for some people to overcome. The only way to get better at something is to keep doing it. Notice I didn’t say “try it” or to “try, try again.” We should remove “try” from our vocabulary. In my opinion, it’s just another way of saying, “I’m not committed and will make a feeble, half-baked attempt.”
A beloved character from a famous movie stated, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” You gotta love Yoda! Lives in a galaxy far, far away, yet still gives sage advice pertinent to career development.
Think about ways to introduce yourself. Using your “elevator speech” or just a practiced phrase can be hugely effective. (For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, an elevator speech is essentially a 30- to 60-second speech about yourself that highlights your strengths and gives a potential employer every reason to hire you. If you don’t have an elevator speech, start working on one as soon as you finish this article! Or come to any of our NCWorks Career Centers – we’ll help you!)
One thing to focus on in developing your elevator speech is finding your “WOW! factor:” what is that one ability, personality trait or skill that sets you apart from the other candidates? Do you speak more than one language? Do you have an eidetic memory? Do you have a personality where people just seem to gravitate towards you? Any of these types of things can be a WOW! factor and just might make the difference in putting you over the top in consideration for a position.
Another form of networking comes from job-search teams composed of individuals who are all seeking work who can act as a support group of sorts. They gather to discuss interviews, strategies for getting hired, tips and tricks that worked for them and those that didn’t work. These teams are a great resource for bouncing ideas or perhaps getting inspired by others’ success in landing the job they’ve always wanted. (The NCWorks Career Center – W. Morehead Street hosts several job-search teams; check the events calendar on NCWorks Online to grab an open seat in one!)
I’ll close with a word of caution about networking: certainly use those connections to find new opportunities, but take care not to become too aggressive. You’ll burn bridges and develop a negative reputation in circles that could otherwise be a benefit.
Jeff Adams is a Certified GCDF (Global Career Development Facilitator) who has worked in the human services field for more than 20 years. He currently serves as a career coach at Charlotte Works, and has an extensive background in case management, counseling and professional development. Previously, Adams was the director of Charlotte Saves, an organized financial literacy campaign, and continues to provide workshops on budgeting and credit management. He loves to educate people on all areas of career development and is passionate about helping others recognize their strengths and achieve their dreams. When Adams isn’t working, he can be found spending time with his wife and two daughters.