January 4, 2010 in Personal Finance

Finding employment in this environment takes more than searching job sites and sifting through help wanted ads. Connecting with people at social functions, online or at job fairs could be what’s needed to land that new job. Before you spam event-goers with your resume, consider these five strategies for effective job networking.

Find the right places to network

For most job seekers, networking to find employment means attending job fairs and talking to prospective employees. Job fairs serve a purpose, but they’re not the only game in town.

“Networking happens everywhere,” says Eric Winegardner, vice president at Monster Worldwide, the New York Internet job-listing firm. “It could be as simple as going to the grocery store or dropping kids off at school. Network wherever you find people.”

Industry-specific conferences, social events, chamber of commerce meetings, lectures and support groups for the unemployed are effective places to network. Seattle-based Sandy Jones-Kaminski, author of “I’m at a Networking Event, Now What?” recommends doing a search on Google to find local networking events.

Crossroads Career Network, a nonprofit employment-services company in Charlotte, N.C., has a network of churches that host job-networking events. The programs — through group meetings, workshops and speaker series — are designed to aid in the search of a new job or career path.

“This time last year, we had around 40 churches and now there are 125 plus,” says Brian Ray, chief executive at Crossroads. “There’s recognition that most jobs that get filled are never posted or listed anywhere.”

Prepare in advance to network

You’re ready to hit the networking circuit. But before you jump in, it pays to prepare. For extroverts, that may mean taking stock of what you have to offer, but for shy job seekers it’s not so simple. It can be overwhelming for introverts if they think they have to talk to everyone, says Wendy Gelberg, founder of Boston-based Gentle Job Search & Career Services.

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Gelberg suggests setting a numerical goal of the people you plan to connect with whether it’s two or five. Getting a list of attendees and doing research on them can prepare you and prevent any awkward silences, says Gelberg.

Work the Room

Networking events fall into several categories, and how you act differs, depending on the venue. There’s the purely social event like a holiday party and then there’s the industry-specific conference and job fair. You shouldn’t blanket the room with resumes at a social event, but you should be armed with resumes at a job fair. Don’t expect to walk away from an industry conference with a job offer, but gaining valuable contacts in your field is a distinct possibility.

While your behavior will differ, depending on where you are networking, all networking events share one commonality — adding value to the relationship. “The cardinal rule of networking is that you must add more value than you extract,” says Monster’s Winegardner. “Networking is not about getting a job next week.”

At networking events, try to strike up a conversation with someone standing alone or get yourself into a group of people. Winegardner says that at many events, the facilitator will step in if he sees you floundering. “The organizers are focused on making sure the event is a success,” he says.

If working the room isn’t for you, Ray recommends working the phones. Make a list of all the people you know and start calling them. Try to get at least two contacts from each one. “You’ll start out with a list of 100 and when you’re done you’ll have 200,” says Ray.

Using the Internet to make and keep contacts

LinkedIn.com, the Mountain View, Calif.-based social-networking site that focuses on business connections, Monster.com’s community boards and other social networks are just a few of the Web venues you can use to network online and reach a lot of people.

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“LinkedIn has a lot of value for job seekers because it lets you connect with a larger number of people very easily, all at once,” says Gelberg. She recommends you keep your profile and skills current on LinkedIn and post any accomplishments as you complete them. Send congratulatory notes or make comments when you see someone in your network update their status. That will keep you fresh in their mind, she says.

Monster Worldwide has communities focused on a specific career whether it’s nursing or law enforcement. Winegardner recommends using forums like that to connect with other people in those fields. “With these communities you can connect around a profession and around common interests,” he says.

Some other job sites include Doostang.com, MeetingWave.com, and Jobster.com.

Connect and reconnect

You’ve made your contacts but the job didn’t immediately materialize, so now what? According to the networking experts, following up and maintaining the relationship is as equally as important as making the connection. That could mean a periodic e-mail, phone call, in-person coffee chat or dropping an interesting article in the mail.

“You can’t do all this in-person chitchat and not follow up,” says Jones-Kaminski. “You have to do things to cement the relationship.”

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