Networking is a numbers game. The more people you speak with, the better your chances to get to a great new employment opportunity, usually one that the entire job seeking world doesn’t know about.
I have discovered that a useful way to begin the networking process conceptually is to divide the target human population into two groups:
• Those You Know
• Those You Don’t Know
Let’s start with the first group: those you already know. This is a wonderful set of people to begin with, as they are presumably ready to help you if they can. Many times a job search starts off as market research. For those that work in professions/sectors of interest, you should be prepared with questions to assist you in learning the necessary information that will make you more effective in your job search, including details like what are the trends in the industry, where are the opportunities, and specifics related to job search within the sector (is there a special placement company, website, industry association). For those that you know which do not work in your profession/sector, which is oftentimes the majority of your friends/family/acquaintances, think of these people as potential facilitators, waiting to introduce you to their networks. Sometimes you need to help them help you, maybe by phrasing the request: “Who do you know that is working in sector X?”
No matter who you are, including the most well-connected person in the world, the number of people you can get to through the people you know pales in size to the remaining population of those that could be useful for you to communicate with in this phase of your job search. The concept “Seven Degrees of Separation” is used to describe the phenomenon that any person can get to any other person in the world through no more than seven links starting with someone that they actually know who then introduces them to someone else closer to the target. The way you can lower this number for yourself is via the quantity and quality of the people in your own personal network. The more people you know and the more people that your contacts know, the greater your ability to reach people of professional interest via networking.
What is the best way to add to your own network of contacts? Certainly as the people you know introduce you to other people, you can make efforts to build a strong relationship with some of these new people, turning them into your own networking contacts.
What is also critical to be aware of though, is that there are resources available to assist you in meeting new and relevant professionals that does not make you dependent upon others. For instance, you can turn any event you attend into a networking opportunity by mingling and meeting new people. An organization’s seminar, parties, volunteering, taking a class, industry events – all of these can be turned into networking venues. And virtual networking opportunities abound and absolutely can be used to forge real-world job networking contacts. Mailing lists, networking sites (LinkedIn, Facebook), internet searches/research – any and all of these will lead to new people that can make a positive influence in your employment search.