Beginners’ guide to networking

This might surprise you: only around 40% of jobs are advertised! That means that the majority of jobs are filled without advertising – by word of mouth or by networking.

Networking can simply be the passing on of information. You network every day, whether you realise it or not.

When speaking to a friend you might recommend a film, a hairdresser, or a good restaurant. That’s a form of networking. Just as you network in your personal life, you can use your contacts to help with job hunting.

Why network?

It’s not always about asking for a job. Networking is a great way to learn more about a particular career. You could talk to someone, who is in a job that you want, about how….

they got there, or what a typical day is like. Inside information like this is invaluable in your job hunt, and you’ll find people are usually willing to share their experiences. Expanding the number of people you know also means you will have contacts to call on if you want to arrange a work placement or some work shadowing.

Why are so many vacancies unadvertised?

Advertising is expensive, and it takes a lot of time to sort through application forms and CVs, and interview candidates. Employers can get around this by promoting from within the organisation or by employing people who have approached them directly. Some organisations actively encourage their staff to refer friends with suitable skills.

Where do I start?

It is quite natural to be a little anxious about networking if you’ve never done it before. But take an organised approach and try following these steps.

  • Make a list of who you know – including what position they hold and who they might know.
  • Identify existing networks – check out industry conferences, events and forums; join business networking sites such as LinkedIn; look for relevant groups and organisations on social networking sites including Facebook; you could even start your own network.
  • Plan your approach – if you’re networking by phone or at a jobs fair, have a clear idea of who you want to talk to, why you are interested in the organisation and why you’re approaching them.
  • Know your stuff – when approaching an organisation, be sure to research what it does and what your contact’s role is. Get to know the type of language they use in their line of work.
  • Focus on what you can offer. Before setting up a networking meeting, think about what you can do for the organisation: you could offer to help out with a busy project they are involved in, or suggest a contact that might help their business.
  • Tailor your communication – if you send out speculative CVs make sure they are tailored to the organisation and show how your skills are relevant. Don’t send out the same version to all organisations.
  • Get organised – keep a book of contacts listing everyone you’ve spoken to, their contact details and their position. This can be invaluable if your contacts get in touch at a later date.
  • Be yourself: there is no need to be an extrovert, just be politely persistent!

Who should I contact?

If you are just gathering information and advice you could chat to professionals on web forums, contact human resources/personnel departments and talk to contacts you already know.

If you’re looking for a job offer, try to find out who manages the budget and makes the decisions about hiring at the organisation. This is more likely to be a head of department than the human resources manager.

What if networking doesn’t come naturally to me?

At first you might feel a little uncomfortable with the idea of making contacts to ‘get something from them’. Try to look at networking as a two-way process – you can offer your skills and abilities in return for support and information.

Another common assumption is that you need to be an extrovert. Not true! You can continue to be yourself whilst networking but just let your enthusiasm and interest in the career shine through.

What if the contact isn’t helpful?

Everyone gets knocked back at some stage. The contact you speak to may be pushed for time or not hiring at the moment. Thank them for their time anyway and ask if they can recommend anyone else that might be able to help.

If you are new to networking and get knocked back, try to think about how you could adjust your approach for future networking opportunities. Be objective about your own technique.