So many jobs, especially higher-level positions, are found through the person-to-person (networking) approach. This goes for both finding a new job for you and finding new employees for your organization.
What exactly is a network? The term usually refers to a group of people who you know and who know you to some degree. These people might range from casual acquaintances you interact with occasionally, to classmates with whom you meet weekly for 22 months, to a few persons in a home Bible study group with whom you share your personal life.
From an employment perspective, the rationale of networks and networking is to get help from persons in your network in finding your next job—to get a referral to a potential employer or to another person who might be helpful. But make no mistake about it, just knowing the names of lots of people and having a big stack of business cards does not make an effective network.
For networks to be effective and provide referrals, several factors must come into play:
1. The persons you contact must, at least, be able to put your name and face together when you ask for assistance. Meeting someone once at a chamber of commerce luncheon two years ago, trading business cards, but having no contact since, hardly constitutes a good network member. Periodic contact (more rather than less), whether in person or via other communications modes, is vital to keeping a good network going. Periodic contact takes time and effort but is necessary—this could range from several times a year to weekly. Just don’t get forgotten.
2. Even if the person you contact remembers your name or, even better, knows something about you, they must like you or at least have a favorable impression of you as a person and professional. Most of us don’t help someone we don’t like or don’t feel positive about.
3. So the person you are calling for employment help not only knows your name but likes you as a person. Is that enough to get a good referral? Probably not. The other person must also have a sense that you are a competent professional.
- Strong skills.
- Good experiences.
- Solid formal education.
- Steady upward career progression.
- Looking and acting like a professional.
- How will you match up with the job or employer he/she has in the back of their mind?
If you think about it, persons you are asking for help are putting their reputations on the line as good judges of people. If they refer you to one of their contacts and it turns out to be a terrible mismatch and waste of time, the referral source is going to look bad. Would you refer a classmate who you don’t like and/or don’t feel is highly competent to a key contact?
So three keys to effective networking and referral building are 1. Meet and stay in touch with as many people as possible, especially in the professional arena; 2. Be a likeable person; and 3. Be sure you have a proven track record of competency and career progression. These are all done before you need help. It’s too late to build a solid track record after you’ve been let go or find you are in a dead end position.
A final key to effective long-term networking and referral building is operating via the Golden Rule: Help others find new jobs. But, again, steer clear of referring someone you don’t know, don’t like or you don’t feel is competent. Your reputation is now on the line.
– Dr. Charles Waldo, Professor of Marketing
Dr. Waldo is a guest blogger for the AU MBA Program