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Build your Network

Did you know that experts have estimated that approximately 80% of all positions in the labour market are never publicly advertised or posted? This is what is known as the hidden job market. These positions are filled by — or created for — candidates who have come to the attention of an employer through direct connections, or recommendations and referrals from trusted colleagues and associates. As the saying goes, a successful job search is not only about what you know, but also who you know.

Still, networking is a lot more than shaking hands, collecting business cards, adding people on LinkedIn, or recruiting followers on Twitter. It is about developing and nurturing genuine and meaningful professional connections.

Networking is also a two-way street: you should be simultaneously giving and receiving advice and assistance, and sharing information with others, thus allowing others to see you as a valuable resource. Taking networking to the next level, it is not only about who you know, but also who knows you.

Since networking is about authentic engagement and relationship building with people, it does take time. That is why you should not wait — start networking now!

What are the benefits of networking?

Networking is ultimately about getting to know others, and letting others know you. There are numerous benefits associated with connecting to professionals in your own field and beyond through networking:

  • Getting to know potential employers and influential decision makers in various organizations and companies, as well as colleagues in your field.

  • Introducing yourself to others so you can showcase your skills, expertise, professional interests, and values.

  • Gaining inside knowledge about an organization and their hiring needs.

  • Creating or learning about career and collaboration opportunities that are not publicly advertised.

  • Staying current on latest industry trends and best practices.

  • Exploring different professional fields as alternative career paths.

  • Building a community for professional support (e.g. knowledge community).

Where do I find people to network with?

Existing Networks

Start by asking the people you know (e.g. family, friends, professors, supervisors, colleagues, etc.) to see if they can introduce you to someone else who can answer your career-related questions or connect you to different opportunities. Individuals who know you well can vouch for you in front of others.

 

Professional Events

Join a professional association in your field, and attend their networking events, conferences/conventions, and their professional development sessions to meet others in your line of work. You can also check out similar events organized by the Career Centre like Voices of Experience, your faculty/school, and student unions/groups (e.g. career fairs).

 

Social Media Platforms

Websites such as LinkedIn, Ten Thousand Coffees, and Meetup can help connect you to like-minded professionals from various fields and disciplines in your local area. You can also build your own professional identity or brand online by using Twitter or other blogging sites (e.g. WordPress) to share or write about your area of expertise.

What do I need before I start networking with others?

Self-Awareness

Assess your skills, experiences, accomplishments, and career goals, and learn to articulate them to others in a confident manner. You should also ask yourself what you would like others to help you with and how. Make sure your request is reasonable and realistic so it is easy for others to help you (e.g. asking others for job search tips and possible job leads that you can follow up on rather than a job offer).

 

Self-Marketing Documents

Even though many employers are no longer receiving resumes at career fairs, you should always bring some copies just in case. You should also consider getting your own business cards so that you can easily share your contact information with others at events.

 

Professional Online Profiles and Communication Channels

Update your online profiles (e.g. LinkedIn), creative portfolios and/or blogs to ensure they reflect your latest experiences and accomplishments. Remember that nothing online is 100% “private”, and avoid posting photos or materials that can be construed as unprofessional. It is also good practice to have a professional email address, email signature, and outgoing voice message.

 

Business Attire

Invest in a few business-formal and business-casual outfits that will help you look professional and presentable at networking events and interviews.

How do I introduce myself?

Whether you are introducing yourself to someone else in-person or online, there are a few things that you should consider mentioning:

  • Name: “Hello. My name is ___.”

  • Education background: “I am a 4th Year Sociology student at Ryerson University.”

  • Common connection(s): “Did you say you graduated from the Retail Management program at Ryerson? Me too!”

  • Career goals: “I am interested in becoming a software/app developer.”

  • Work experience and skills: “I gained some great experience in landing gear design and manufacturing management while completing my aerospace engineering internships.”

  • Professional values: “As an aspiring social worker, I actively reflect on different social justice frameworks and incorporate these ideas in my interactions with clients.”

  • Social media presence: “I maintain a blog and a Twitter account on the latest trends and concepts in graphic design for professionals in creative industries.”

     

It is a good idea to practice your introduction script (or “elevator pitch”) a few times before attending networking events, so you feel comfortable telling others about yourself. Just remember that conversations often evolve organically, so try not to be too robotic when delivering your introduction.

How do I keep the conversation going?

Do Your Research

Some career fairs and networking events will post lists of attendees or participating companies ahead of time. Identify individuals or organizations you would like to speak to, and read up on their career paths or current projects so you can ask well-informed questions. If you do not know who to expect at these events, you can still generate conversation topics by keeping up-to-date with the latest news, trends, and developments in your professional field.

 

Be Curious and Stay Alert

You can learn a lot from other people’s experience by taking an interest in their career journeys and asking them appropriate open-ended questions (e.g. What got you interested in this field in the first place? How did you enter your line of work?). Listen to them attentively and fully engage in the conversation. This will encourage mutual exchange of information so that you can form a genuine connection with them.

 

Know When to Move On

There is no need to ask all your questions in one sitting and exhaust the conversation. If you sense that the person you are talking to wants to move on and speak to others, you should gracefully thank them for their time, get their contact information, and ask for permission to connect with them after the event. That would also give you the perfect excuse to keep in touch by approaching them for a follow-up conversation (e.g. informational interview).

How do I maintain my network?

Say Thanks

Send a personalized message to your new connections after the initial meeting to thank them for taking the time to speak with you. You should also remember to thank the person(s) who made the introduction.

 

Keep in Touch

Invite your new connections to connect with you on various social media platforms if appropriate, and leave them messages from time to time to engage them continually (e.g. “liking” and responding to their posts). If you had a great conversation with them at the initial meeting, consider scheduling an informational interview to keep the conversation going.

 

Be Personal

Do you remember how/where you met your connections, or what you spoke about (e.g. their career journeys, tidbits about their personal life)? Being able to recall and follow up on your previous conversation(s) shows your genuine interest in them, and will help them remember you. You can use the relationship tab under your contact’s profile on LinkedIn to keep track of and manage these pieces of information.

Common pitfalls in networking

Not Maintaining the Relationships

Relationships will wither if you do not spend the time to nurture them. Maintain your network by meaningfully engaging your connections. These contacts may not be frequent, but you can make sure that they are regular. Remember that the quality of these relationships matters a lot more than their quantity.

 

Waiting Until You Need a Job

Many students put off networking until they need a job, but building relationships — particularly ones that could get you a job lead or even an offer — takes time. Get into the good habit of developing and maintaining your network now. It is never too early (or too late) to start.

 

Discounting Peer Connections

Some people think that networking is only effective if you are connecting with high-level decision makers of an organization, so they overlook the power of peer networking. Remember that you never know what your peers will become one day, or who they know. Be open-minded and courteous to your peers. Find ways to help each other.

 

Focusing Only on Big Names

Many students solely target major corporations in their networking efforts, when in fact far more job growth occurs in small businesses. A small organization may not have the budget to spend on advertising, but once you have an “in,” it is easy to get to know everyone and maintain your relationship with the whole organization.

View Career Compass for more tips from career experts, industry professionals and alumni.