If you find networking cumbersome — a drain on your time and energy — you’re not alone. At the same time, networking can be one of the most powerful ways to find a job that’s the right fit for you, one aligned with your abilities, skills and interests. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of jobs are never posted, residing instead in the “hidden job market,” and advertised by word of mouth.
Why does it seem to hard for some people to network? For starters, it often infringes on downtime. After a hard day at work, it can be far more appealing to curl up with a good book or indulge in binge watching the newest Netflix series than to engage your inner extrovert.
But that’s not the only reason. A study led by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino found that networking makes people feel dirty. So dirty, in fact, that many won’t do it, even if they believe networking could help them find a new job or advance their careers.
As Gino and her coauthors found, “instrumental networking” — defined as purposely creating social ties to support professional goals — doesn’t feel right for many people, actually impinging on their moral purity. As a result, they tend to avoid it. If you can relate, perhaps it’s time to revisit your perception of networking, and to think of ways to expand your professional circle in ways that feel more comfortable.
5 Networking Strategies: Which is right for you?
Our career coaches emphasize the importance of finding ways to network that work for you — and not against your grain. Following are five networking strategies to consider:
- Set Up Informational Interviews: One of the most overlooked job search and networking strategies is informational interviewing, especially when you’re looking to transition to a new or slightly different role or career. Informational interviewing is the process of conducting highly focused conversations with professionals currently working in your field of interest in order to gather information about a job, company, field or industry. And the beauty of this approach is that you’re not asking for a job — you’re just asking for information, so it helps take the pressure off. But you’re making new connections who might refer you to others — or even keep you in mind when a position becomes available within their company.
- Join a Professional Group or Association: Identify and join the top professional groups for your target career. Attend their conferences or tradeshows — the featured speakers are usually industry leaders with hiring power and your fellow attendees likely work in the industry, so strike up a conversation about where they work and what they do. Read the association’s publications and follow them online for updates and possible job postings. Or, for a more casual approach, explore local meetups related to your career goals and interests.
- Connect With Other Teams Within Your Company: If you’re unhappy in your current job, consider if there’s another department or team within the company you might like to work for. If so, ask someone in that department out for coffee to find out more about their role, the dynamics of their team and if they’re looking to hire. Or, if you’re uncomfortable inviting them out one-on-one, participate in company events where they might be present and initiate a conversation. Often, internal candidates receive preference over external applicants.
- Peruse Your Alumni Directory: Most high schools and colleges maintain graduate directories, which often include current employers and/or occupations. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a fellow alum who’s working in a career or at a company that interests you. Most people will be happy to help.
- Connect via Social Media: It’s never been easier to connect with people from your past, present — and future! — than it is now, thanks to social media. If there’s someone you admire professionally and would like to know better, use social media to get in touch. If the individual has developed a web presence through blogging, all the better. Become a follower or fan by reading his or her offerings and posting your own value-added comments. Extend an invitation through LinkedIn with a personal note about how much you appreciate this person’s work or viewpoint, and stay in touch. You never know where the connection might lead.
A NEW WAY TO LOOK AT NETWORKING
There is nothing inherently negative about networking. While networking can be beneficial to your own career, it can also be a two-way street — a win-win scenario — when you think of what you can offer to those you meet.
Gino’s study found that low-power employees felt much dirtier after networking than high-power employees. Could it be that high-power employees, who probably moved up the corporate ladder via networking, have become more comfortable with the activity over the years? Or could it be that having “more to offer” renders networking — and the guilty feelings of “using” people it produces — less of an ordeal?
Either way, businesses need good people, and they don’t always have the time or resources to find them. That’s why the hidden job market is so powerful. By networking and putting your abilities, skills and interests “out there,” you’re making it easier for a company to locate the talent it needs to further its goals. There’s no reason to feel dirty about that.