Whether you’re looking for information, advice or a job, networking is a useful skill. 70% of jobs are filled by people who heard about them through their networks.
Building a network can seem like a huge challenge. For many people, the idea of asking others for information and help feels uncomfortable. Once you know how to network, you’ll feel more confident about reaching out.
Networking means connecting with people you know or meet and asking them for advice, information, and referrals to other people. Even if you’re not looking for work, it’s important to keep networking so you have the connections you need when you are job hunting.
Networking is a great way to find out about:
- Jobs that have not been advertised
- Occupations you might be interested in
- Education and training programs
- Companies you may want to work for
When you ask people you know to either help you or refer you to someone else, your network grows. It becomes not only the people you know, but also the people they know. Networking works because people tend to be more open to talking with someone if they know the person who referred them.
You can network anywhere and at any time–either in person, over the phone, or online. Networking is a two-way street. When you network well, you give as much information, advice, and support as you get.
When you think about who is in your network, consider everyone you know. Most people are happy to help others, and you never know who they know or how they might be able to connect you to your next opportunity.
Your network begins with the people you feel most comfortable contacting:
- Family, friends, and neighbours
- People you’ve worked or gone to school with, past and present
- People you know socially, and through religious and community groups
It can be hard to think about family and good friends as part of your professional network. But your sister, best friend, or favourite uncle who are successful in their careers and able to help you. When you spend time with them, talk about more than just personal topics. Ask them about their work and talk to them about your work, your interests your career goals.
At the next level, your network includes people such as:
- Contacts from professional associations, alumni groups, or unions
- Professionals you deal with, like dentists, doctors, or lawyers
- Teachers, former employers, and instructors
Many professional, industry, and alumni associations, and some unions, offer networking services to their members. Look at their websites to find out. Even if you’re not a member, you may be able to see an organization’s online newsletter and find contacts and opportunities.
Here are some places you can look:
- Search for public agencies to contact a professional organization.
- Connect with an alumni association by visiting the post-secondary school’s website.
- Find a union by searching online for the name or union local number.
Your teachers can also be a great resource. They can provide you with letters of reference and help you get work, win scholarships, and get accepted into programs. In post-secondary school, a teacher can give you a job as a research assistant or summer student or connect you with colleagues who have opportunities that align with your studies.
Print some professional-looking business cards
Handing out business cards is a professional way of ensuring that people can contact you if they hear about an opportunity you might be interested in.
Business cards help people remember you and the context in which they met you. They are a useful tool for expanding your network because your contacts can also pass your cards on to others.
Include the following information on your business card:
- Your name, followed by a professional designation, college diploma, or university degree, if you have one
- Your field of work—for example, mechanical engineer, health care professional, adult educator, administrative assistant, musician, sales representative
- Your contact information—telephone number, cell phone number, email address, and fax number, if you have one
- Your company name, if you have your own company
- Up to 3points that describe your work, skills, and characteristics
You can use the space on the back of your card to market yourself by briefly listing your skills and accomplishments. Another option is to include a QR code (a square barcode that can be scanned by smartphones) that contains your contact information or a link to your website.
Build your network
If you’re having trouble getting started, try this exercise:
1. Make a list of headings on your computer or a sheet of paper:
- Relatives and family friends
- Your friends and their families
- Parents of your children’s friends
- Community contacts, such as members of religious organizations and volunteer groups
- Members of your professional association
- Professionals you deal with
- Teachers or former teachers
2. List as many people as you can under each heading.
3. Highlight the names of the people you feel closest to or most comfortable contacting.
4. Get in touch with your close contacts first:
- Ask them for information about occupations, industries, specific employers, and job leads.
- See if they can give you a referral, or support and advice.
5. Keep your list up to date by adding names as your network expands.
Networking can be informal or formal. If you find it hard to network, you may want to start informally by talking with people you know—for example, classmates or the other parents at your kid’s soccer game. Once you get the hang of it, you can start networking more formally.
Tips for informal networking:
- Tell everyone in your network what you’re looking for, whether it’s information or job leads.
- Ask people to keep their eyes and ears open for you. If the people you talk to don’t have the information or job leads you need, ask if they can refer you to someone who might.
- Carry business cards with your name, phone number, and email address. Hand them out to people as you talk to them.
- If you have a job, you might want to keep your work search confidential. Ask your contacts for general information about their work or company rather than asking directly for job leads.
Network more formally by following up on referrals by phone, email or in person.
Tips for following up on referrals:
- Tell the person who referred you.
- Tell the person exactly what kind of information you need.
- Describe the type of people you want to meet.
- Describe the kind of job you are looking for, if you’re job hunting.
- Describe your qualifications.
- Keep the conversation or message short.
- Always thank the person.
Take your networking to the next level by attending formal networking events in your area. These events are often targeted to a specific occupation or industry. A Google search should be all you need to get started.
Tips for networking at formal events:
- Be friendly. Say hello to anyone you know but keep it brief.
- Mingle! You’re there to meet new people.
- Scan the room. Approach a small group or person and introduce yourself. Mention your job or the occupation and field you’re interested in.
- Bring lots of business cards and hand them out freely.
- Ask people for their business cards and whether you can follow up.
Call or email your new contacts within a few days. Remind the person how you met by being specific about where you met and what you had discussed. Ask a question about their field or offer them some information. Tell them about your work or work search.
Tips for networking online:
Networking online has become an important tool for making good connections. The Internet opens up many new and powerful ways to connect with people and expand your network. You can use many different tools to network online, including:
- Social networking sites
- Professional networking sites
- Blogs and online communities
- Online events
Think about the differences between in-person networking and online networking before you get started. There are more online networking tips than can be covered here so check out this additional resource to learn more about networking online.
Networking is an essential part of work search. Whether you’re networking online or off, it’s always important to be professional. Remember that networking works best when you give, as well as receive. Offer advice, information and connections to the people in your network and they’ll do the same for you.