While it would make the introverts, the meek, the shy, and the novices awfully happy if the newspaper classifieds contained all job openings, that's simply not the case. In fact, some of the best jobs aren't listed anywhere except in the mental catalogues of CEOs and managers.
So how do you apply for jobs that aren't advertised anywhere, that exist only in the seemingly inaccessible minds of working America's movers and shakers? You meet people who might have insight into your job search. You talk to people who know people who could help you out. You chat it up with strangers at parties. You cold-call people you've read about in the newspaper. You write cordial letters to prominent community leaders. You cultivate an arsenal of contacts. In short, you network.
Think about networking as a game, as a sport, as a personal challenge. Below are some strategies for success.
Think of everyone who could possibly serve as a contact. Don't limit yourself to people who could clearly help you out - friendly, accessible people in unrelated fields often have contacts they would be happy to share with you. Also, people who, through either work or volunteer activities, have contact with a diverse crowd can be extremely helpful. To get you started with your list, here are some suggestions:
Networking is a little like planning a political campaign. While it's essential that you are honest and relaxed, you should not wing it. Just as politicians think about what they tactically need to accomplish, convey, and gain when they make an appearance or give a speech, you should approach networking opportunities with a game plan. Before you confidently and charmingly sashay into a business conference room, a dinner party, or group event, do your homework. Find out who will be there, or do your best to list who you think will probably be present. Then decide who you would most like to meet. When you have your list of potential contacts, thoroughly research their work and their backgrounds and then make up some questions and conversational statements that reflect your research. And finally, think critically about what your goals are for your networking function. What information do you want to walk away with? What do you want to convey to the people you meet? But, as is always true, it's important to be flexible and to perceive opportunities you didn't plan to confront.
Business conferences, informational interviews, college reunions, and cocktail parties are obvious networking opportunities - you expect to walk away with a few business cards and some recommendations for potential rolodex entries. But the reality is that invaluable contacts and enviable opportunities often surprise us. Good networkers are flexible people who approach connection-making as a fluid enterprise that extends far beyond hotel conference room walls. You never know who will step onto the adjacent elliptical trainer at the gym; who will be parked behind you in an interminable grocery store line; who will sit next to you on an airplane; or who will be under the hair dryer next to you at the beauty salon. Don't let these opportunities pass you by. While it may have been sheer luck that you bumped into an affable CEO, your savvy approach to networking can turn a banal exchange into a pivotal moment in your career path. Always be ready to make a contact and exchange business cards. And remember, don't hesitate to network someone who has no obvious connection to your ambitions: Your new contact may be able to give you relevant names of his or her friends and colleagues.
After you meet with a contact, it is absolutely essential to write a thank you note. Tell your contact how much he or she helped you, and refer to particularly helpful, specific advice. Everyone - even the most high-level executive - likes to feel appreciated. In addition to immediate follow-up after a meeting or conversation, keep in touch with your contacts. This way, they may think of you if an opportunity comes up, and they will also be forthcoming with new advice. It's important to stay on their radar screens without being imposing or invasive. And, of course, if you get that new job, be sure to tell them and thank them again for their help.
If you want to be treated with respect, treat others with respect. If you want your phone calls and email missives returned, call and write back to the people who contact you. If you want big-wigs to make time for you, make yourself available to others whom you might be able to help out. It's that simple
The higher up you climb in the professional world, the more you'll find that everyone knows everyone else. Thus, if you're impolite, curt, condescending, or disposed to burning bridges, you'll cultivate a reputation that will serve as a constant obstacle. Remember - the people who seem little now will one day be running companies and making decisions. If you treated them with kindness and respect when they were green, they'll remember and return the favor later.
When you call, meet with, or write to a potential contact, make it as easy as possible for them to help you. Explain what you specifically want, and ask detail-oriented questions.
For example, "I'm looking for jobs in arts administration. Do you know anyone who works at the Arts Council? May I have their names and phone numbers? May I use your name when I introduce myself to them?" Another entrée into a productive conversation is to solicit career tips and advice from your contact. Most people love to talk about themselves. By asking for your contact to offer valuable insight from his or her personal experiences and successes, he or she will feel important and respected. Who doesn't like to feel like an expert?
Be sure to avoid making general demands, such as, "Do you know of any jobs that would be good for me?" This sort of question is overwhelming and it puts an undue burden on your contact.
Keep a record of your networking. Whether you do this in a Rolodex, in a notebook, or in a database file on your computer, it's important to keep track of your contacts. Make sure your system has plenty of room for contacts' names, addresses, phone numbers, companies, job titles, how you met them, and subsequent conversations you've had with them.
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