In my last blog entry, I wrote about the importance of joining LinkedIn, and its usefulness in networking. I am not a paid advocate of LinkedIn (somewhat unfortunately, it might be a nice sideline), but I am a big proponent of networking and in my opinion, there is no better way to network than having a coffee, one-on-one.
If you are one of the few improbable souls who bagged an Oxford starred first in Economics while juggling rowing team captaincy, learning Mandarin and saving the children of the third world then networking may, I admit, not exactly be critical. But it can still help. You may – like all FreshMinds' candidates – have done well at school and university and are regarded as a member of a high-calibre pool of candidates. But here’s some news for you: for the best jobs out there (the jobs you want, obviously), that pool is larger than you think, and refilling every year you’re out of university.
Sure, you can differentiate yourself with a killer cover letter, manicured CV and enough extracurricular activities to make the Olympics look like a knitting session. But at the end of the day, people buy from people.
Networking does not mean ‘asking someone for a job’. It’s about introducing your ‘brand’ to the world, and gathering intelligence. It’s about talking to a range of people in your area of interest, gauging the lay of the land in their industries and organisations, and mining them for insight. Have no fear: most people love talking (about themselves in particular), like feeling like an expert, and like doling out advice. There is absolutely nothing better than having a disciple sitting at your feet, hanging onto your every word.
Ultimately, this sort of networking will not only give you the industry knowledge that will set you apart at interview, but proactively searching out people in your industry may even get you that interview.
But, and imagine these words in bright, shining, angry red letters: do not ask for a job. In fact, don’t even offer your CV unless it’s requested. This is an opportunity to soft sell, and if all goes well, you will be remembered.
So, how do you get started? Luckily, there are many opportunities for networking out there. There are careers fairs, industry events, alumni reunions etc, but unless you know how to work the room, they can all be a bit intimidating.
Here's a brief step-by-step guide on how to network effectively:
1) Join LinkedIn if you are not already on it
2) Complete your profile to 100% (or as close as you can get)
3) Invite everyone you know from your school and university (including the administration team and professors), your past jobs and internships, and parent’s or sibling’s professional contacts with whom you are familiar with
4) Search the area you are looking to get into
5) Make a list of the people who would be able to help you in your journey (an excel spreadsheet helps). This list will include people in the roles you want to get into, people in positions above those roles, and directors of those departments, etc. If you find someone who has a similar interest, go ahead and put them in
6) If they are not connections, sending a LinkedIn in-mail can get expensive. Take some time to look up their e-mail addresses online. If you can't find the address, find the format, e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org
7) Write a brief draft e-mail stating how you are interested in getting into the contact's company or industry and that you would like to speak with them to get some insights. Invite them for a cup of coffee. NB this cup of coffee is always on you.
8) Personalise each e-mail, just a little, and send. For every ten emails you send out, expect to only receive two back. Send over a hundred. It's easier than cover letters and it's worth it.
9) For each positive response, ask to meet them at a coffee shop of their choosing, usually close to their offices. Meet, chat, get their card and pay for the coffee.
10) After a few meetings, you will have a wealth of information in your hands to be able to tackle the job search in the most efficient way. One of these may lead to a job down the line, it may not. Now you have a stronger network of allies that will come in handy in your career.
Now go get caffeinated!