“Elevator pitch”, “LinkedIn profile”, “Skills development”, “Building contacts”, “Career events”… If you get the shivers just reading those phrases, don’t worry. You are not the only one who feels confused, nervous or downright scared about using networking during your job search.
Networking has become a more trusted and common method of job searching, and it’s easy to see why. You spend some time improving your LinkedIn profile, you attend events in your particular field, you reach out to friends, former coworkers, even family, and boom, you get a job! Wait. It can’t be that easy, can it? Honestly, networking is all about how much effort you put in from the beginning. If you’re willing to devote some time preparing yourself for the process, it will go a long way toward making your networking efforts as successful as possible.
Let’s take a look at some strategies and useful places to start:
Building your network
This is the biggest, and probably most challenging, piece of the puzzle. For many of us, we are in a new city, state or country and don’t necessarily have that same familiarity with our professional field as we did at home. It also takes time to get to know new people, and even feel vaguely comfortable chatting about your work aspirations. But one thing you should remember: everyone has to start somewhere. The Bay Area is a wonderful melting pot of people from all over the US and the world, and it’s comforting to know many others have had to figure this out too.
In the past, before the days of social media, networking was more frequently done in person. You needed to be seen. Now, although it is still important to get out and attend meetups and events, you can do a lot of networking and developing contacts and relationships online. There are hundreds of groups you can join on LinkedIn and Facebook for career-specific resources. When you join a group, be sure to introduce yourself and make it known that you’re looking to expand your network and develop contacts in your field of work.
Confidence, confidence, confidence
There are many reasons we don’t feel confident when starting the job-search process, such as fear that you aren’t experienced enough, or that it’s been a long time since you last worked. Set yourself some short- and long-term goals to start off, and concentrate on ways you can streamline your “unique selling point.” It helps to make a list of the skills you are very confident in, and maybe a few that you aren’t. Then, grab a friend for coffee or a walk, and practice your pitch. Imagine you’re on a call with a hiring manager who doesn’t have a lot of time to spare. You can say a lot in a few short minutes, if you have spent time refining what you want to say in the first place.
“What do you do?”
Personally, I hate this question. It often catches me off-guard, especially when I’m in a social setting and thinking I’m not there to “network” – but here’s where I’m wrong. Any kind of social event or gathering is a chance to see if there’s someone you can connect with about your professional skills. Also, for so many of us moving to the Bay Area, it might not be possible to work in the same field as we did before. The industries are different here, and there’s a lot of focus on tech-related jobs. This is where you have to put in some serious work: maybe you’ll need to take a course or acquire some additional certification to boost your skills, or even study a whole new degree. There are so many easy ways to take classes or certificates, especially online and through video courses. Taking some extra classes is also a great way to meet people and share knowledge and experiences.
Getting out there
Taking the plunge and attending a networking or career event is a big deal, so if you can, go with a friend. It really helps to have a buddy with you, even if your friend isn ’t job-hunting. If the event is a hiring event (and many of them are) make sure you’ve dressed the part too. In the Bay Area, you’ll seldom need to wear a full suit but getting yourself a little dressed up never hurts. It will help you feel more confident too. If it’s your first time attending a networking event, and it feels overwhelming, try circling the room once. Make eye contact and smile at a few people, and then come back after a few minutes to greet them and tell them a little about yourself. You can also get some business cards made and keep them with you. You never know when you’ll need them.
On the other hand, sometimes these networking events are not purely hiring events: they’re more casual, and an opportunity for people in a similar field to meet in a social setting. Often, they’ll be at a restaurant or bar and will have a “happy hour” atmosphere. They’re a great way to meet people and make connections in a more relaxed setting.
We’d love to hear your networking and job-related experiences! Tell us in the comments below, and good luck!