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The Art of Networking

If you are looking for a job, networking is a powerful skill to master. The art of making genuine connections with other people can help you discover new opportunities, share job leads, and learn crucial information for the employment hunt.

Successful networking is about developing friendships and establishing contacts you can rely on to share job possibilities, business opportunities and referrals.

According to the Harvard Business School Alumni website, 65-85% of jobs are found through networking. It's worth your time to learn how to connect with others. Here are nine tips for learning the art of networking:

1. Start with who you know. If you're looking for a job, tell your friends, neighbors, and people you come in contact with everyday about your search. The more people who know you're looking, the more allies you'll have in the search. Use all your contact methods, including face to face, telephone and social media.

In the article Can't Find a Job? Keep Looking!, we suggest creating a list of at least 100 people to contact. When you reach out to that many people, chances are some of them will have job leads, or they may know other people within their own networks who can help you.

2. Get savvy about online social networks. Spend time on Internet-based social media networks to make communication easier. For example, a simple status update on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter can inform all your contacts that you're looking for a new job. Just provide a link to your resume, and people you're connected to can email your resume to others in their online networks. Even if your friends don't know of any job opportunities, you might be able to connect with their contacts for help in finding employment.

In addition to broadening your own network, many social media sites have online groups you can join that are targeted to your specialties. This is a way to meet new people and possibly discover even more job leads within your field.

3. Join organizations.Whether you choose to be a part of general networking organizations or industry-specific clubs, get involved with groups that put you around other people. Some to consider include:

  • Chambers of Commerce - Sometimes the fees are hefty to join, but many chambers have mixer events that non-members can attend for a nominal fee.
  • Volunteer organizations - Non-profits and service groups can offer networking meetings while also providing an opportunity for you to help your local community.
  • Alumni clubs - Even if it's been years since you've been in school, contact your alumni office to see if there are any networking events for former students.
  • Industry-Specific Business Organizations - Most industries have local business groups you can join in order to network with others within the same industry. You just have to do a little research to find them, by searching online for your "industry name," plus "location," plus "networking groups," or speaking with others in your industry.

There may be costs involved with joining clubs, but if they are related in some way to your career or to finding a job, you may be able to deduct the expenses on your taxes. For more information on this and other deductions, read our article 8 Little-Known Tax Write-Offs.

4. Ask for advice. When you're speaking with a potential contact at a networking event, one effective way to communicate with that person is to ask for guidance, especially if he or she is in a senior level position. Listening to others, especially if they have experience in your targeted industry, is an important job search skill.

5. Become a familiar face. When you select a networking club or organization to join, participate often. It may take a few visits before others begin to recognize you and remember you for a job position. Make sure people get to know you over a period of weeks and months.

6. Ask for business cards. When you meet people in person, get in the habit of asking them for their business cards, so you have a way to contact them later.

If someone asks you for your card, be sure to have one to hand them. Even if you're unemployed, you can get a few professional-looking cards printed at a local copy center for a reasonable price (often under twenty dollars). Include your name and contact information. Don't leave the "job title" space blank. That could lead to embarrassing questions about why you're in between jobs. Instead, include your industry or career focus in that space.

7. Follow up. Chances are very slim that you'll find a job lead after just one conversation with a person at a networking event. Instead, resolve to follow up with that contact in the future, whether it's to ask a question, send an article that might interest them, or simply to say "hello." This will keep you at the front of that person's mind when a job does become available.

8. Always send a "thank you" note. When someone refers you for a job or gives you a job lead, send that person a handwritten letter or an email thanking them, even if you don't actually land the job. It's a courtesy to show how much you value the effort someone made on your behalf.

If that person is considering you for employment, then writing a "thank you" note is an effective tactic to help you stand out from the competition. For more information on other tactics, read our article 10 Strategies for Today's Job Seekers.

9. After landing a job, keep networking. A poll published in the Washington Post found that nearly half of the human resources executives surveyed stated that networking is the most effective way to land a job. If you land a job through networking, that's great! But don't stop once you have the job. Just as you probably couldn't imagine a life without friends to chat with, you shouldn't expect to work in your career without constantly networking.

In fact, the period after you find a job may be the best time to network, because you're less likely to appear to be a "desperate" job-seeker, and you're in a better position to help others. You may even have access to a number of new networking groups through your employer.

In this age of lay-offs and downsizing, it's important to maintain the skills necessary to find and keep a good job. By learning the art of networking, you can develop friendships, help others, and provide yourself with the best chance to find an employment opportunity that's perfect for you.

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