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The Riley Guide: Network, Interview, & Negotiate or How to Job Search

Networking to Enhance Your Job Search

If you're searching for a job, one of the most common pieces of advice you'll receive is, "Network, network, network!" But people who give this advice aren't always clear about what they mean by it. What is a network, and how can you develop an effective one? This article will explain the answers to both those questions, and lay out some steps you can take to build your network online. The process isn't all that different from making friends in ordinary life - and in fact, as you'll see, there's a lot of overlap between the two. Read on to find out how to get started.

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What Is a Network?

The word "network" sounds pretty official and businesslike, but it really just means an informally connected group of people. This can mean friends, family, colleagues, former teachers, vendors, customers, supervisors, subordinates, and even competitors - or all the above. You're networking very time you get together with someone for coffee, every time you chat with someone while you're getting a haircut, and every time you bump into an old friend on the street. In short, networking simply means building and maintaining relationships - any of which may connect you with helpful information.

This definition of networking sounds like the same thing as ordinary socializing - and in one sense, that's actually true. Networking isn't so much a distinct activity as it is a distinct way of thinking about your social connections. When you're in need of a job, instead of thinking, "I don't know anyone who'd want to hire me," the concept of a network gives you the ability to say, "I have access to a whole network of people, any of whom might have information that could lead to my next job."

Networking is a distinct way of thinking about your social connections...

Networking doesn't mean making a bunch of cold calls or sending hundreds of friend requests, though. It means making meeting and talking with people with whom you share a valid connection - a mutual friend, a mutual profession, membership in an association, or just a shared hobby. It doesn't have to be carefully choreographed, and it doesn't even require that you have a specific goal in mind - but it is a two-way street, and it should benefit both people in the relationship whenever possible. So if you receive a favor from someone in your network, be sure to offer one in return.

Statistics back up the idea that networking is an effective way to search for jobs. According to CareerXRoad's 9th Annual Sources of Hire Study (Feb 2010, PDF) "Referrals make up 26.7% of all external hires (new employees hired from outside the organization). [...] The yield for referrals is one hire for every 15 referrals, making this category the most efficient source by far." Hires attributed to job boards, on the other hand, only represent 13.2% of external hires. Why such a difference? Because employers prefer to hire someone they know personally.

How Do I Network Using the Internet, and Why?

Let's start with the "why." Social networking websites can serve as great resources for finding other people who are your interests and career goals - people you'd never have met offline - and starting conversations with them in a low-pressure way. You and the other person can type responses whenever it's convenient, and nobody has to worry about tone of voice or body language. At the same time, though, that means it's extra important to convey respect with your words. And that leads to the "how" part of the question.

Take a little time to track down communities and/or people who share your interests...

Unlike a conversation in real life, an online conversation can simply vanish into thin air if the discussion runs dry. First impressions are also very important, as it's easier to ignore an online message than a real-world opening line. So before you launch into online discussions, take a little time to track down communities and/or people who share your interests. This is easy to do on social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook - just type the name of your field or expertise into the search box, and you should see drop-down suggestions for groups to join. You can also search for people (as opposed to groups) who share those interests.

Once you've joined a few groups or found a few people who look interesting, join the discussion - or send a message - introducing yourself politely. If your message is too vague, you aren't likely to get a reply - so share a specific piece of information, ask for something in particular, or raise a certain topic of discussion. For example, if you're messaging someone who's further along in the same field as you, you might ask if you can send a few questions about how that person got to where he or she is today. Or you can simply say that you're trying to expand your network of colleagues, and offer your expertise on a certain problem.

Netiquette: The Fine Art of Correct Behavior on the Internet

Just like offline etiquette, netiquette really boils down to respect. Treat people the way you'd want to be treated, return every favor you receive, and introduce people in your network to one another. That's really all it takes to keep a good reputation online. To break it down even more clearly, here are four simple rules for netiquette:

Your online behavior can impact your offline reputation in more ways than you might expect...

Keep in mind that your online behavior can impact your offline reputation in more ways than you might expect. Many employers will search for your name on Google at some point during the interview process, and you'll obviously want them to like what they find. Beyond this, people who might turn out to be valuable friends or colleagues can be put off by a brash tone or a coldhearted word. This sounds like something that it's easy to avoid, but we've all fallen to the temptation to type something we'd never say face-to-face, at one time or another. So in the end, netiquette boils down to one simple rule: Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say in person. It's really that simple.

Where to Network Online

When you think about networking on the Internet, the most obvious places that come to mind are sites like LinkedIn and Facebook - but you can actually expand your network on a wide variety of different discussion boards, social networking sites and mailing lists. Professionals in lots of industries use these channels for networking, discussing recent developments in their fields and asking questions of each other - which means that even if you're not an active participant, you can learn a lot about your area of interest just by following the discussions.

Discussion boards are like an office water cooler. Conversations can be highly professional or very informal. Loads of web sites and online services - like the Vault.com Career Discussions (select Companies, then Discussions) - offer you the opportunity to create your own virtual meeting space.

Even if a group is private, you've got nothing to lose by requesting to join...

Social networking sites work the "six degrees of separation" concept to the extreme, using the Internet to turn who you are, who you know, and what you know into a vast net of connectivity. These sites include services like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus. Some discussions on these sites may be more casual, while others are focused on professional linkages. To get started networking on a site like this, just type a keyword into the search box and see what community suggestions pop up. Even if a certain group is marked as "private," you've got nothing to lose by requesting to join - the worst the admins can say is "no," and if they accept your request, you may gain access to some exclusive sources of information about your field.

Mailing lists date back to the earliest days of the Internet, and they're still widely heavily used in academic and research professions. Plus, many of them now have web interfaces, making them easy to check out from your browser. Even so, they still operate via email, which means you'll need a personal email account to participate. To find mailing lists that might be relevant to your industry or profession, search the CataList maintained by L-Soft or try Yahoo! Groups.

Networking and discussion sites cover a broad variety of topics and fields. While you may occasionally be able to find actual job postings on some of them, they're mainly a good resource for finding networking contacts, staying up-to-date on industry trends, and keeping track of other developments. Look for groups dedicated to the industry you want to target, the employer(s) that interest you, or even the city or town where you want to live.

You'll need to participate if you want to make connections with people in a group...

As you begin to check out various discussion forums, monitor the discussions for a while before you jump in. Watch for information on the field, and get comfortable with the vibe of the group. Still, although you can learn a lot just by following the discussions, you'll need to jump in and participate for yourself if you want to make connections with people in a group. If you've got professional credentials, share them in your signature or on your public profile. You may even want to share your current employer and job title.

While some networking sites, like LinkedIn, are designed around secure messaging systems that prevent you from having to share any personal info, you may want to create a separate email account specifically for participation in mailing lists. For one thing, your employer may monitor your email usage; and for another, it's always a good idea to keep your personal email address as private as possible.

Making Contact

How do you know who in a group to connect with, and how? In mailing lists and discussion boards, look for postings by someone who seems to be knowledgeable about the topic being discussed. Note his or her email address at the top, and look for signature information citing their organizational affiliation, position in the organization, and more complete contact information.

Stick to contacting people with whom you can claim a valid connection...

On a social networking site, on the other hand, stick to contacting people with whom you can claim a valid (if limited) connection - for example, you're both former employees of the same company, graduates of the same school, or members of the same association, mailing list or discussion group. If you can't make any of those claims but have a network connection in common with the person you want to meet, ask that mutual connection to introduce you.

Once you've identified someone you want to contact, prepare your initial message carefully. Be professional and especially polite, and double-check for grammar and spelling errors before sending your message. Contact the person directly, rather than via a public message on the list or discussion board. Be clear and concise about why you're contacting the person. Don't send a copy of your resume or ask for a job - though it's usually all right to ask for a little career advice. And request a follow-up via phone or email, so you can keep the discussion rolling.

Need More Info or Assistance?

We also have information on Networking and Support Groups, How to Network Online (and Why), and Networking and Support Groups. The resources on our page for Job Search Advice may also have helpful ideas for you.

Helpful links

Take Your Network Online -- Hints and site suggestions for presenting a professional image in your online networking.

6 Ways to Build Your Career Network Online -- Some quick, handy tips for expanding your network via the Internet.

5 Reasons Your Online Networking Efforts Aren't Working -- If you're making one or more of these common mistakes, you could be sabotaging your own efforts.