With so many other qualified candidates out there, one of the best ways to get a leg up is through a personal connection – your network. A network is a list of personal, academic or professional contacts who can connect you with a potential employer.
Building your network is a lifelong process. In rare cases, a personal contact can introduce you to someone who works in the industry you are interested in, but most of the time you have to be a little more intentional and a lot more patient.
Now the question is: how do you access new networks? Below we listed a few ideas for networking and creating professional relationships.
Attending employer events and job fairs
The beauty of these types of events is the employers in attendance want to meet you! The downside is a lot of other people will be there too and you only have so much time to make a lasting impression. Our advice? Be prepared! Create and practice a short, two-sentence introduction that captures who you are and what you can do. This is called an “elevator pitch”. But don’t just say your two-sentence spiel and leave it at that! Engage with the employer. Even though your time is limited, you can still build rapport by asking one or two thoughtful and unique questions.
While there may not be any in-person events happening right now, many organizations (including OFE) are hosting virtual events for you to attend. Be on the lookout for those and make sure you sign up for them.
After the event is when you really need to work to solidify that connection. Make sure you use the business card or other employer information provided. Send the employer an email thanking them for their time and/or presentation. If you submitted a resume or application at the event, follow up. If not, ask if they are willing to talk with you more about their company and the positions they are (or will be) hiring for, which leads us to the next point.
Invite a professional in your industry for an informational interview
You would be surprised by how many professionals are willing to spare a few minutes to talk to you on the phone or exchange a couple of emails. The bottom line is people love to talk about their accomplishments. Networking is not only about getting a job faster and easier, it is also about building relationships with people who can help you throughout your career. By inviting employers to have a more in-depth conversation with you, you will gain both valuable information about the company and, if you play your cards right, an ally in your future endeavors.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Ask open-ended questions on how they reached their level of success
- Ask questions about their challenges and how they overcame obstacles
- Ask about the characteristics of people who succeed in their company
- Be curious, take notes, and ask about potential opportunities they may have in the future
Attend professional development courses, events and workshops
Not only can you learn a lot from these workshops, they are also a great place to meet others in the industry. I know how hard it is to mingle before or after the workshop and during breaks, but mingle you must! One way to decrease the stress around this is by preparing a short list of questions you can start a conversation with. Usually something as simple as, “Which organization are you from?” is enough to get people talking.
Other tips to keep in mind:
- If you have a business card, bring them and use them
- Pay attention to the introductions at the beginning and take note of people of interest
- Look for opportunities to attend free workshops in your community
Again, while it’s hard to attend in-person workshops nowadays, more and more virtual opportunities are popping up, and some of them are even low-cost or completely free. Try visiting a library’s website or a nearby university’s website for ideas on what is out there.
Volunteering allows you to experience the workplace and get to know people who may know people. If you can find a position in the company or industry you are interested in, even better. Either way, volunteering allows you to showcase your skills while boosting your resume at the same time.
With Covid-19 you may be wondering if any opportunities are out there. The good news is there are plenty! Volunteer Manitoba has a list of organizations that are currently in need. If you are hesitant about volunteering in-person, we understand. There are also a few opportunities for you to volunteer remotely. Keep in mind that some types of remote work will require a higher set of skills and access to the internet and a computer so you may have to browse a bit to find a position that best suits your skills and interests.
A strong network can open many doors for you. It’s important to keep all doors open as you build your career because you never know which introduction will lead to your next employment. Also remember that networking takes time, so give yourself the chance to get there. Next time you are at an event, whether in-person or virtually, start by saying “Hello!” and see where that takes you.
Author: Jennifer Lavina, Facilitator at OFE