Networking is a strategic component of any job search. Studies have shown that networking can be 12 times more effective than answering job advertisements. This is particularly true in the nonprofit sector, where under-resourced hiring managers frequently look to their networks for candidates. As a result, the ability to successfully build and cultivate relationships is a vital part of advancing your career, and in many cases, landing the ideal job.
In jobseeking, there is an old adage: “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Making connections with a targeted set of people can result in the acquisition of new information about a specific type of work, organization, or job opportunity. These connections can further your career, both in your search and after you land the job.
This article explores some simple yet effective ways to build a robust and targeted personal network, and then leverage that network in your job search.
Building Your Network
Networking is a social skill. Luckily, we are constantly in social settings that promote networking opportunities. As a general rule, make yourself as visible as possible. Go to every social or professional gathering you can, such as conferences, career fairs, alumni activities, professional association meetings, and fundraisers. Participate in volunteer opportunities at organizations that interest you. You never know when a hiring manager will be volunteering next to you at a soup kitchen or a homebuilding event.
When it comes to building your network, begin with your inner circle and move outwards. Make a list of your family and friends who work in particular fields, organizations, or roles that interest you. Initiate conversations with these immediate connections, and at the end of every meeting, request introductions to at least three of their colleagues. This is how your network grows by degrees–by connecting with the people who know the people you know.
Beyond your immediate network, conduct research to identify people in positions and/or organizations that interest you. Online resources such as Guidestar and the Foundation Center and sector-related publications like the NonProfit Times and Chronicle of Philanthropy may be helpful to this end. After you conduct your research, create a comprehensive list of people with whom you plan to conduct outreach.
Strong organizational skills are the key to managing the building of your network. Besides contact information, record relevant information for your contacts such as industries, interests, professional associations, and even personal information like birthdays and anniversaries. Organize your network in a contact management system like Outlook. There are also web-based contact management systems like Plaxo that allow you to email the people in your network directly. If you prefer to rely on a hard copy organization system, place business cards in a binder for easy reference.
Networking 2.0: Leveraging the Internet
It’s no secret that web sites like MySpace and Friendster are incredibly popular. In the past ten years, online social networking tools have exploded. What started as a way for former classmates to find each other has grown into a widespread forum for anyone to connect with people they already know and people they want to know. Today, there are over 200 social networking sites, many of them devoted to connecting professionals to each other. How can social networking tools like these help you make valuable connections and further your job search?
Professional social networking sites provide great opportunities to make connections. Since this type of networking is done online, there are no restrictions of geography or “being in the right place at the right time.” On these sites, jobseekers can create a personal profile, including information about yourself such as what your core competencies are, what kinds of organizations are of interest to you, and what type(s) of position you are seeking, and then build a network by searching for people by field of interest, organization, position, or any other search criteria. This is especially helpful when trying to connect with someone to whom you may not have a direct connection, as it eliminates the need to know someone in common.
Some of our favorite sites for professional social networking are LinkedIn, Ecademy, and Ryze. Social networking sites that serve individuals interested in the social sector include 1Bloc and Omidyar Network.
Blogging is another web-based strategy for making connections. Free blogging software like Blogger and WordPress make it easy for anyone to share information and connect with like-minded people online. Although blogging is a less direct form of networking, it has already become a valuable way for jobseekers to get their name out there and attract new people into their networks.
Cultivating Your Network
Once you’ve identified and started to build your network, it’s time to cultivate those relationships. Reach out to people by e-mail, provide a brief introduction to your background and interests, attach your resume, and request fifteen to thirty minutes by phone or in person to discuss your search. Make it clear that you are looking forward to your contact with them for information and advice (NOT for a job, in which case they may just try to route you through human resources). You will be surprised by how many people are willing to take a quick call to help a jobseeker, especially in the nonprofit sector.
In preparing for each informational interview, develop a list of ten questions that you could not have answered on your own. A few good examples may be: What are the largest challenges currently facing organizations like yours? How do you see macro-level changes in the sector impacting your work? What do you find to be the most and least enjoyable aspects of your work? Additionally, remember that these meetings are also an opportunity for others to get to know you. Make sure that you have a personal positioning statement prepared, including information that you may have used in your personal profile (described above).
After you’ve had a meeting or informational interview with anyone in your network–whether it’s your Aunt Sally or the head of an organization you’re hoping to join–remember to send a personalized thank you note immediately. A hand-written note is a traditional touch that many people still appreciate, although e-mail is also an acceptable format for thank you notes and it travels more quickly. In addition to your gratitude, offer your assistance to the people in your network. Networking is all about fostering goodwill and shared knowledge; be prepared to reciprocate in any way possible.
Networking is an ongoing activity. Smart professionals are constantly developing networks throughout their careers. This can lead to additional employment opportunities as well as making you more effective in your job by providing you with professional associates, mentors, partners and resources. Making the effort to network early and often provides jobseekers with a leg up before they even embark on a job search. If you invest in building relationships to gain information about work that interests you and to connect with others, you may network your way into an ideal position sooner than you think.
This article was written by Commongood Careers and is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
For more information about nonprofit and socially entrepreneurial careers, visit Commongood Careers at http://www.cgcareers.org.