Some people love to network, others do not. And especially now in the time of Covid, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, people are worried that it might not be ‘appropriate’ to network, especially if you are looking for a job, or want to pivot your career. But if you think about it, the worst thing you can do if you have not talked to someone for a long time and now need a favor, is to reach out in the guise of asking how they are doing, and then ask for something for yourself, instead. People will see right through you. So for that reason alone, it is critical to network on an ongoing basis, no matter what is going on in your life, and how hard you think it might be.
But networking is critical if you are one of those who have unfortunately lost their jobs during this difficult time. The pandemic has changed a lot of things, and the world of hiring, recruiting and the dreaded job search has not been untouched. So it’s ok and even necessary, to start doing some things differently, including networking.
And this is especially true for those that are navigating the online job application systems that seem to suck up your resumes and cover letters, never to been seen again. What a lot of people don’t know, is when you put your application into those online systems, the majority get kicked out before they ever get to a real human. So, while you are beating yourself up about not having what it takes for the job you just applied for and are taking it really personally, nobody ever got to see it to realize how great you are in the first place! That makes networking even more important than ever if you actually want to get seen by a real person.
Most people equate ‘networking’ to sticking a name tag on their jacket and bravely entering a room full of strangers. And while we can’t do that anymore anyway (silver lining!) networking is really more about building meaningful relationships, about serving people and earning their trust and respect. Because humans are social beings, and I think we’ve discovered now more than ever, that we need to feel deeply connected to others to thrive. So essentially ‘connecting’ is vital for our overall wellbeing. And connections start with communication & conversations which is what networking is all about. The other thing to keep in mind, especially right now in these difficult times, is that the conversation you have with another person might be the best one they have had all day. Or it might be the only one they have had all day.
That’s one of the real benefits of networking – you never know, when you reach out to another human being, how that conversation might make them feel. And while people might not remember the words you say, they will definitely remember how you made them feel.
Networking has gone mostly virtual, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t or can’t still be done, or is less effective, especially in the job search process. In fact, it may be more effective now because it can be more intentional and targeted. People are isolated and need distractions. But they are also really busy so you need to be a little more creative than you might have been in the past.
The informal, ‘let’s meet for coffee’ can be achieved quite nicely in a virtual situation these days. Or if you are feeling brave on occasion, you can still ‘mask up’ and sit socially distanced in a coffee shop, outside at a restaurant, or even better go for a walk with someone. But because most are still stuck in their homes and your job search maybe country wide, it’s almost easier to invite someone to a zoom meeting to catch up, and we have a lot to catch up on!
Here are two ways that you should absolutely network as you go about your job search and you should do both in tandem:
I. Ask for Informational Interviews:
This is a great way to get knowledgeable and involved with a company before they may even have a job open. First of all, identify the top jobs & industry(s) where you want to work as well as the companies you would love to work for. Do your research to see where your skills would most fit in that company and the roles where you could possibly land. Then you might want to reach out to individuals who would be potential peers in that job, to start – they may help you get to a recruiter or hiring manager later on. Starting with a peer in the role you want is less intimidating and they may also be more open if you word the request well. Try and pick someone that you have something in common with that can spark a good conversation. Ask them for an ‘informational interview’ so you can learn as much about the person and the org to see if you’d be a good fit. And you are also starting a relationship that hopefully can help you in the future when there is a job open. Or they could help you navigate the company to find that next open position. Very often a company does not post all their jobs anymore (the hidden job market that is really out there), not wanting to go through the discovery work that always comes from that posting. As well, they often depend on their employees for recommendations. Be sure to keep to the time limit you’ve asked for, have thoughtful, well prepared questions in advance and send a thank you note afterwards. You will want to keep the relationship going with this person and hopefully at some point they can refer you to a hiring manager or pass your resume on once a position does come up. Repeat that processes throughout all the orgs you are interested in working for. You can also try to connect with potential leadership roles in those orgs or their recruiters but need to be especially creative with your ‘ask’ as everyone is so busy these days.
II. Send applications in online and also follow up internally:
At the same time you are targeting companies for those informational interviews, you will also still want to be applying online to open positions. But to ensure your application doesn’t just go into that black hole, you should also be reaching out to the hiring manager or recruiters for that open position, at the same time. This is a little harder because you don’t often know who those people are, though through research on LinkedIn you may be able to find a person close to the hiring manager or perhaps a recruiter who works there. I have a very creative client that finds at least one recruiter in the org and sends her resume to them, stating the position and asking that if they aren’t the right recruiter, to please send it on to the correct person. It often gets her to the right person. These people are busy and would rather remain anonymous, but you can’t assume they will ever see your resume unless you try to reach out. A well written email that makes a connection could get your resume a look when it never would have otherwise.
Here are 5 more ideas for networking for your job search that may help you get your resumes in the hands of a human and also build your relationships for the future:
- Be very active on LinkedIn, focusing on industries/companies and their employees where you’d like to work. ‘Like’ posts for sure but also make comments where you can, as well as share other’s posts. The author will know that you have done so. As well, create great content yourself and share on LinkedIn, get people to come to you and want to connect. As well, make sure your profile is optimized for the jobs you want as recruiters are actively looking on LinkedIn.
- Watch the ‘Notifications’ icon at the top of your LinkedIn Navigation tab and look for reasons to reach out to people – birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, posts people are following etc.
- Also follow companies and people on other social media that are on your job search target list. You can learn a lot that will help you in a specific job interview or may give you more ideas for informational interviews as well as ways to tweak your resume & cover letters.
- Download your Network off of LinkedIn and look for people, customers or old colleagues that you may have lost touch with and make a point of reaching out. Let them know about your job search and ask for help- why not? You may be able to return the favor in the future. As well, continue to grow your network in an intentional way – send out connection requests with a thoughtful note. And message people back when they ask for a connection with you
- Also on LinkedIn, join industry groups or others you are interested in, and become active in them. Recommend and endorse people as much as possible
All things being equal, people will do business with and give discretionary effort for, someone they’ve connected with, someone they have a relationship with, and someone they ultimately have come to like.
Your most valuable currency is relationships, emotional capital, and the ability to connect with others at a deep level. Now is exactly the right time to continue, ramp up or jumpstart your networking efforts. With people still so isolated they may welcome the distraction. And remember, the conversation you have with them at any given time, may be the only good one, or the only one, they’ve had all day.