Networking for success

by 26 Nov 2008

Q. Im looking for a new HR role and someone I respect suggested that I should be networking as well as applying for roles. How can I access a network and what should I be doing?

A. Networking is a word which seems to strike fear in the heart of most job hunters. Many times I’ve sat opposite candidates during interviews or career meetings and broached the topic only to receive a horrified look. People seem to equate networking with selling themselves, asking people they know for a job or some other idea only marginally better than the thought of selling encyclopaedias door to door!

Networking is a critical part of any effective job search. Everyone has a network, even though everyone thinks they don’t have one, and the more senior or specialised you are, the more important it is to include networking in your job search. A good job search requires momentum which comes though an effective CV, applying for plenty of relevant roles and actively tapping into your network.

Accessing a network starts quite simply with who you know. Think about your personal contacts – friends, family, neighbours, community groups,professional colleagues and contacts, industry membership groups, parent groups etc. Within those groups of people there is almost always at least one person you can talk to as a starting point. This is the part that really scares people and they will ask in a quivering voice “But what should I say”?

I like to think of networking meetings as research and information gathering and by taking that approach, they become much less daunting. In actual fact,good networking usually does form the basis of a lot of useful research during a job search and can teach you a lot about what’s going on in your chosen profession and what is of interest to you.

Here’s how it works. Start by identifying an ideal first contact. Often it can be easiest to start with someone you know (but not a good friend). Plan what you will say when you phone them. Telephone contact is better than email as it’s harder for the person to say no.

• In an ideal world, you will speak directly with the person. Your conversation should be along the lines of:

• Remind them of how they know you and/or who suggested you call them.

• Tell them your reason for calling.

• Tell them that you are interested in their thoughts and their background and how they got to where they are.

• Ask them if they can spare 15 minutes to meet with you, or better still, offer to buy them a coffee.

Few people will say no to talking about themselves and the flattery of being asked for their advice. Usually that’s all it takes and you will get a meeting.

Prior to the meeting, you need to get some genuine questions together. For example, you might be an HR generalist who is thinking about specialising in learning and development, so your questions might be along the lines of: what competencies would I need to develop? What experience or further experience do I need? Do I need to get a formal qualification? How did you get into …? Which companies or industries are leading edge for learning and development?

These questions enable you to get relevant information and to do your research but also give you the opportunity to talk a bit about yourself. Usually you won’t provide your CV at this meeting, unless asked, as the point is to engage them and to get good information.

If the meeting goes well, you should ask for one of their contacts to talk to as well. Ideally each meeting should add to your snowball of contacts which gets bigger and bigger as you go along. After the meeting you should thank the person with a hand written note or email and that’s when you can include your CV.

The benefit of networking is simple. It gives you a good foundation of research and adds an important dimension to your job search. In Australian cities, HR networks are very small which works to your advantage. You want to get people in the relevant professional network talking about you, which allows you to access the hidden job market and lays the foundation for an ongoing professional network which you should maintain after you move into your new role.