This post originally appeared in Skills you Need.

Job seekers the world over are familiar with the phrase: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This has never been truer than today when you are one of hundreds of online applicants. How do you gain the attention of hiring managers and decision makers when they don’t know you? Employing a smart networking strategy is the key to achieving breakthrough and landing your next job.

So what is networking? It is the exchange of useful information between people. This helps you to understand the challenges of hiring organisations and demonstrate your value better in the application process. It also offers new perspectives on your job search and a longer list of organisations to target.  In the process, you will be raising your profile amongst decision makers, who with a little luck, might refer you to someone in their network hiring.

Be strategic in your networking

 Two common mistakes people make in networking is either to talk to anybody in a scattergun approach or to confine themselves to their pre existing networks. Both of these are often time-consuming, ineffective and demoralising. The key to networking is to target organisations you are motivated to work for and those who are likely to be hiring.  With these two factors, you’re going to maximise your chances of making a fulfilling career move that happens sooner rather than later.  Bear in mind that the sooner that you want a job the better it is to focus on those that are likely to be hiring.

40 is a challenging, yet manageable number of people to start with. Here is how you can get to that number.

  • Write down the companies that you most want to work for off the top of your head.
  • Search the job aggregator website www.indeed.co.uk to check whether they are hiring in your position.  It tends to be more comprehensive than others. Add them to the list if they are. For large organisations it is enough to see that they are hiring for other roles to demonstrate that they are growing and it is more likely that therewill be a job in the near future forthe role that you seek .
  • Search directly for job openings to top up your list. Use the niche job boards in your industry first. Then use Indeed again, other aggregator sites, including Neuvoo and large job sites like Reed, total jobs, LinkedIn and Jobs Rapido.

Target the right people

So you have your short list of organisations. Now you need to find the right people to target through this step by step process. Speak to hiring managers directly or people with your desired job title by following these steps.

  • Use LinkedIn - it is a powerful way to network with people you don’t know. Start by entering the desired job title in the search filter called ‘keyword’ and ‘organization’. If you're not getting what you're looking for then you can refine your search by function and years of experience by upgrading to LinkedIn Premium, which is usually a good investment.
  • Mention a mutual connection - it will always get a much higher response rate. The quickest way to do this is to use Email Hunter, a plug- in for your web browser to find email addresses from Linkedin and other sites.
  • Then add www.Discover.ly to your email account. By placing in their email address you can take a look at their profile on LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Facebook. From there you can identify any mutual friends or talking points.
  • You can also use LinkedIn to ask a connection to introduce you to their connection, but the whole process is quite cumbersome, so I would recommend you just do that via regular email.
  • Finally, contact people by email. As it's time-consuming and difficult to get someone on the phone, email is the most effective way to get in contact with people. You'll also tend to get a higher response rate than by using LinkedIn messages.
  • The key rule for any email sent is to make them care, be that by congratulating or showing excitement about something relevant and recent remind them of the interactions that you’ve already had.  Then make it short and concise: normally 3 paragraphs and 6 to 8 lines are about right.

Do your homework

Value their time and don’t ask questions you can find out through simple research on the Internet. Things like the average salary, the list of responsibilities and daily activities can be found by looking at existing jobs in that area.  You have to go beyond this. What is it that only this person can tell you about the organisation?

You'll come up with part of this information during your research around that person, and their role in the industry.   You’ll also get better insights when you can show that you’re sincerely interested in who they are and what they do. Follow them on social channels and participate in their conversations, be that with comments on their blogs or reply and retweet on Twitter. Add more value and stand out so that you get noticed where possible. In this way you're not just researching these people, but you're actively engaged in their world as much as you can be. 

Create an agenda

Write down in advance the key things that you want to talk about.  It's all too easy to get sidetracked - you end up leaving and knowing nothing more about what's important.  That's why an agenda will keep you on track.

Here is a potential structure that can work courtesy of the 2 Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton.

  1. Small Talk: How are you? Something about the weather / football?!
  2. Lay out the agenda
  3. Then follow TIARA (in the order that seems most natural as the conversation unfolds
  • Trends impacting the organisation
  • Insights on the organisation
  • Advice to prepare to prepare a career in this field
  • Resources to learn more
  • Assignments and current projects that this person is working on

4.     Next steps: always ask whether there are other people they would recommend speaking to. If a referral is offered, commit and schedule follow-up. Always thank them again for their time.

5.     Send a thank you email as follow-up within the same day. This not only gives you the opportunity to thank them for their time, it also allows you to ask for some more suggestions and continue the relationship from the meeting

6.     When a job comes up in their organisation, then let this person know. Ask them whether you can include mention of their name in the application process in order to stand out. Mentioning in your reasons for applying that you have discussed your organisation with this person subtly emphasises the effort you have made.

Killer questions for useful insights and advice

  • How did your expectations before you started work compare with the reality of the job?
  • What they would change if they had a magic wand?!
  • What are some things most people do not realise about this career?
  • Is your job typical of others in this field?
  • Ask them to describe the investments they made along the way in terms of education, training, equipment, certificates, licensures, office space, systems etc.
  • Ask each person, “What do you believe was the best investment you made in your career?”
  • What are the factors in feeding success and its traps? What are the factors that inhibit and facilitate success at each step?

Of course, all of this takes effort and you'll have to make a judgement call about how important this contact is and how much time do you want to give to this process. Remember, doing it correctly can land you your dream job.

Network in person where possible

When there is the opportunity to do so, attend events and get to meet people personally.

  • Do your research and list the specific people that you aim to meet at the event
  • Make sure you can recognise that person at the event and take picture from the Internet along on your phone if it would help to refresh your memory
  • Have a couple of comments written down to trigger conversations
  • Prepare three introductions about yourself - one to last a couple of seconds  for a brief introduction, the next a few sentences when someone expresses more interest and the last that can be longer when you get into an extended conversation with someone
  • Have a few talking points that you have gleaned from your research about this person all topics related to them
  • Take notes after your meeting so that you can work on the next steps

Conclusion

Most importantly – don’t get discouraged! Building worthwhile relationships, in life as well as in networking, takes time and effort. With this attitude your efforts will be targeted and streamlined to achieve maximum effect and the success you deserve. The most important part of networking isn’t meeting people—it’s following up, being helpful and staying in touch over the long term. When you approach networking with enthusiasm, respect for the other’s time and exude credibility, you’ll a better chance of a new contact and friend. Networking is good manners Wherever possible, ask if there's anything you can do for that person and focus on what you can offer to others. You never know when that help might be useful.

Martin Underwood is the Head of Career Strategy at Life Productions, helping lawyers and other professionals find a better career fit and take practical action through advice, courses and networking.

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