Merriam-Webster defines networking as the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
Unfortunately, many of us view networking in our job search as a one-way process. That would be a one-way path to finding an employment opportunity. While finding that job may be your ultimate goal, you will be far better served if you view networking as Merriam-Webster does: the "exchange" of information or services.
As you network with others in your job search, always ask what you can do to help those with whom you are networking. Be sincere in that desire to help. Your sincerity will not only be recognized, but also appreciated. As a result, your networking efforts will be far more effective.
Because most jobs are never advertised, networking is truly the best path to what is called the hidden job market. To find these "hidden" jobs, you will need to cultivate and nurture productive relationships among a group of people "who exchange information and services to help each other."
Good networking is a planned and ongoing process. Set goals and plan strategies to accomplish those goals. As you act on your plans, evaluate how well you are doing.
In many industries, there are membership organizations that provide networking opportunities. There are also service organizations, such as the Lions Clubs, the National Exchange Club, and the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. There are also alumni associations and other professional associations, all of which may provide great networking opportunities.
If you are or become involved in any of the above organizations, set goals of how many people you will speak with in each of their meetings.
Your network can be expanded by talking with your friends, people at your church or synagogue, and former co-workers and bosses.
An important principle in networking is that you are probably only two or three connections away from talking with the exact person you need to connect with. If you have as few as 50 connections (friends, people at your church or synagogue, and former co-workers and bosses), and each of them have 50 connections and each of them have 50, the result is an astounding 125,000 people. All of these people are only three connections away from you personally. And any one of them may be the exact person you need to connect with.
While it can be overwhelming to find that one connection among so many possibilities, the key is to focus your networking. At a minimum, you must identify employers that hire your skills and ask questions leading to these employers, or people who work for them.
The reality is, networking is a challenge. You must take the initiative to speak to people. Push yourself and approach new people as often as you can. To do so, you will have to overcome any fears you have in approaching new people and you will probably have to stretch your so-called comfort zone. You will only get as much out of networking as you put into it.
Remember, for the most effective networking, always sincerely ask what you can do to help others along the way.
Ron Campbell has worked extensively in the job preparation and job search industry. He can be reached at 801-386-1111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.