Career experts often say that if you’re looking for work, you need to network. (Next Avenue just declared getting a job referral is the No. 1 way to get hired today.) But what if you’ve tried networking — going to industry events, chatting up attendees, following up with LinkedIn invitations — and you’re not getting any nibbles?
My advice: Don’t give up. Networking is an effective way to advance your career. But if it isn’t working for you, get more strategic.
4 Ways to Network Strategically
Here are four ways to network more effectively:
1. Diversify. Familiarity not only breeds contempt, it limits a job seeker's opportunities. Forming bonds with people just like you — identical industry, similar age — is human nature. But chances are, they’ll have the same information as you about the job market.
Broadening the types of people you network with will yield more potential job prospects. Research shows that “inbred” networks are not as effective as those whose members don’t know each other, simply because there's a higher likelihood that redundant information will get recycled among like-minded people.
An easy way to diversify your network is by joining one non-professional group that interests you. Examples include a church organization, a recreational sports team, an alumni club, a hobby forum online or even a nonprofit where you’d like to volunteer.
By forming relationships with individuals in other fields and social circles, you’ll increase the odds of coming across fresh information that could boost your job search.
Keep in mind that everyone has a network. Who knows? Your new neighbor’s mother-in-law could be just the person you need to meet.
2. Provide value to your online network consistently. The responsiveness of your online network when you need help finding work depends on the amount of goodwill and trust you’ve built up over time.
Your name is likely to come to mind when contacts hear of openings if you’ve established what social scientists call “ambient awareness,” which New York Times Magazine writer Clive Thompson says is a euphemism for incessant online contact.
To work this approach into your daily life, think of providing value in small bites. For example, a colleague of mine periodically emails useful articles and info on local events to groups of people in her network.
Social media offers many easy opportunities to add value. You can do it through LinkedIn status updates, tweets and other short messages that your network contacts find meaningful.
Not sure what to write about? Include a link to a blog post on a relevant topic, comment on an event you attended or recommend a free training session. Anything that assists people you know will be appreciated.
3. Offer mutual support. These days, networking isn’t just about turning up job leads; it’s a great way to swap new ideas, offer problem-solving expertise and suggest avenues for personal growth.
London Business School professor Lynda Gratton describes three new networks for the digital age: The Posse, The Regenerative Community and Big Ideas Crowd. She says your value today is judged not only by your knowledge, but by the collective knowledge of these three networks. Each can be useful in its own way.
People in your Posse can help you solve problems because they share similar backgrounds and expertise.
Your Regenerative Community consists of friends with whom you have deep relationships — those you can lean on when times are tough and celebrate with when life is good.
And your Big Ideas Crowd includes individuals who are very different from you and will expose you to new ways of thinking.
(MORE: The Key to a Successful Career Shift: Asking For Help)
4. Upgrade your network. In their book, The Start-Up of You, co-authors Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn’s co-founder and chairman) and Ben Casnocha (an entrepreneur/author) write: “The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.”
So try networking by looking for people you admire, can learn from and have similar values.
Find mentors who believe you can be more than you think and who might help you to rise to the occasion. This can be as informal as a coffee with a friend you haven’t seen lately but who always makes you feel better after you meet.
Let go of the whiners, the doomsayers and the people who thrive on negativity.
Networking Takes Time
As you might have guessed, all of this takes time … and patience. There is no secret networking tip that will get you a job tomorrow.
In your mission to network more strategically, pace yourself. Each week, identify at least one action you can take with any of these four ideas and find a buddy who will hold you accountable.
Over the course of months, these small steps will result in valuable, tangible support from your new, better network and, with luck, will lead to your next job.