One of the most important career activities that both new and seasoned professionals need to focus on today to accelerate their success is networking. But as we continue to move more fully to a digital world, there’s a great deal of confusion and misinformation about how to network effectively, particularly for folks just starting out but also for mid-career professionals who are unsure how to leverage top networking platforms such as LinkedIn in the best way.
In a typical year, I hear from hundreds of professionals globally asking questions about the specific steps they should take to reach out to strangers they’d like to connect with, as well as the best ways to build supportive, influential relationships that will help them land ideal roles, gain access to top organizations, achieve advancement and promotions, and get the info they need to steer clear of toxic workplaces. And in my work on LinkedIn, I personally experience every week people reaching out in an off-putting manner, burning bridges that could have been highly instrumental for them.
To explore this topic in greater depth, I recently joined Andrew Seaman, Senior Editor for Job Search and Careers for LinkedIn News, to discuss “Networking for Job Seekers: Building a Support Community To Help,” and here’s what we shared.
Below is my take on the most essential networking tips that will help you reach new mentors, sponsors and “ambassadors” who can open powerful doors to elevate you and your work:
Tip #1: Stop shying away from networking. Understand why networking is essential if you want to build a truly rewarding career that will grow as you grow
According to recent studies, as many as 80% of jobs are not landed by applying online (but through personal and professional connections) and 70% of jobs are not publicly listed. Instead, it’s through networking that we gain opportunities to learn about ideal roles and have the chance to apply and interview for them.
But you need inspiring and influential people in your corner to help you land and assess potential jobs and continually evolve throughout your career. As one of my top mentors for the past decade,Judy Robinett—bestselling author of How to Be a Power Connector and Crack the Funding Code—teaches, to elevate our careers and professional endeavors, we have to “get in the right room” and not focus only on connecting with people who are our current level. And according to Ivan Misner—Founder of BNI.com, the world’s largest business network organization and who CNN called “The Father of Modern Networking,” we have to network “up” with our business idols to achieve the advancement we long for.
You simply cannot build an amazing, rewarding career without people in your corner who can help, advise and guide you, whatever professional stage you’re in.
A supportive network helps you 1) identify great new jobs of interest, 2) vet companies and cultures, 3) connect with people already working at your ideal organization or in your desired field, 4) show you that you’re worthy of bigger possibilities than you originally considered, and 5) present yourself in a more confident and compelling manner.
Unfortunately, thousands of people resist networking for a number of key reasons. First, they shun it because they feel it’s somehow deeply challenging or even “unsavory” and “awkward.” And introverts can often perceive networking to be in stark contrast with their preferred personal style.
But there are ways to engage in networking without it feeling intimidating and difficult. Matthew Pollard, author of the bestselling new book The Introvert’s Edge to Networking, and an introvert himself, shares exactly how this can be accomplished, in our recent Finding Brave podcast interview.
Another mindset that helps shift people’s reluctance to networking is recognizing that the rules of engagement online are the exact same as those you apply in your personal life and in your in-person social situations. You should apply the same rules of etiquette and graciousness—and of being of service first and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes—when you’re attempting to connect with strangers online as you would meeting a new group of people in person.
What I’ve found helpful is to view LinkedIn as the “big cocktail party in the sky” where we can choose to meet the most inspiring people in the world who are doing great things that motivate us. So why wouldn’t we want to push ourselves to stretch out of our comfort zone and connect with these people who are making a huge positive impact in the world in the way we long to?
Another key thing to note regarding networking is that professionals who are unhappy in their work often stay isolated for years, not building the very relationships they need outside of their current organization, to help free themselves from those unsatisfying situations.
Many unfulfilled and disengaged professionals feel they don’t know how to talk about themselves or their achievements and talents in compelling and positive ways, so they remain hiding and stuck, often for years.
This challenge is, in fact, what my research has uncovered as one of the 7 most damaging power gaps that 98% of professional women (and 90% of the men I’ve studied) face today that block them from reaching their highest, most rewarding potential. This “hiding” behavior is what I refer to as Power Gap #4: Isolating From Influential Support, and according to my latest survey, 71% of professional women globally are experiencing this gap today. Further, when I ask unhappy professionals who their role models are, the most common answer is, “I don’t have any role models.” When we don’t have role models, we are holding ourselves back from key information and shining examples of new ways to operate and contribute professionally.
This has to change if you want to land ideal roles that excite and stretch you. You have to know what you’re great at, understand the great value you bring, and why hiring managers should employ you over someone else. And networking will help tremendously with that. You need to get more comfortable articulating in writing and verbally sharing information about your talents, contributions and areas of special achievement, on LinkedIn, on your resume, and in your interviews and conversations, if you wish to move forward in your career and your professional life.
Finally, it’s vitally important to remember that this next job won’t be your last job. To continue to grow and thrive throughout the long arch of your career and have the freedom and choice to make the moves you want to, you need a robust community of mentors, sponsors and ambassadors to open doors you can’t open by yourself and avoid the error of staying too long in a dead-end role or organization.
Tip #2: Make full use of LinkedIn and other networking platforms to build mutually-beneficial relationships that will help you
I’ve seen in working with professionals that “how you do LinkedIn is how you do your career.” In reviewing scores of LinkedIn profiles a day, I can tell in 5 minutes more about how you’re operating in your professional life than you probably know yourself.
Take steps this week to power up how you’re operating in your work as well as how you’re presenting yourself online about your work. Are you demonstrating that you are engaged, committed, excited about your work, a thought leader, a contributor, an inspiring manager, one who is making a difference?
As a start, make a list of the top 50 people in your career who have been the most helpful, and make a connection, and share how they’ve positively impacted you. Endorse and recommend them on LinkedIn. Engage in a “random act of kindness” every week and offer an unsolicited and generous endorsement.
Follow 50 top thought leaders and influencers in your field (or in the field you wish to enter) and share their posts and updates, with a detailed comment as to why their work inspires you. And always tag them in your shares. Be of service to them by amplifying their messages to your community.
Uplevel your profile and make sure you’re making full use of all the features available on LinkedIn, including:
- A beautiful, engaging banner image that represents you and what you care about most
- Attractive headshot with a face-forward, smiling image
- Compelling headline that follows this formula: What you do (functionally), who you do it for, and for what key outcomes
- Summary – articulate your top skills (use the best relevant keywords for your job and field), key contributions and the ways you’ve moved the needle in your area of expertise and what you’re most passionate about in the work you do
- The powerful outcomes you’ve generated in the jobs you’ve held—don’t just list “tasks” you’ve done. Share the key outcomes you’ve contributed to that have made a difference at your organization that other employers would want as well
- Skills for endorsement— select a robust, large list of skills (from the selections that LinkedIn provides) that you possess so others can endorse you for those skills
- Follow key groups and organizations that reflect your keen interests
Tip #3: Some key Do’s and Don’ts for job seekers wanting to network powerfully
- Don’t reach out to a total stranger and ask for a favor immediately. Build a connection first and do that by being of generous service.
- Don’t pitch someone hard right after you’ve connected with them. No one wants to be hawked, ever. You’ll burn bridges forever.
- Don’t use canned language—be unique, creative and authentic.
- Don’t ask a stranger whom you’ve just connected with to recommend you for a particular job, or introduce you to the hiring manager. People won’t put their own necks on the line for someone they don’t know at all.
- Don’t ask a stranger if you can “pick their brain.” Recognize that many of the folks you’re asking information from make their living offering this type of consulting. And have empathy for how crushingly busy many of these people’s work-lives are.
- DO make a list of 50 people you’d like to connect with, and be of service in some way (share their content and add your thought leadership, etc.)
- DO join organizations, societies, groups in the field of your choice and be active in them—answer questions, offer thoughtful discussion points, etc.
- DO remember to connect with a wide array of folks in and outside your field whom you like and admire. Demonstrate your potential to them by being of service through sharing their work.
- DO write recommendations for those people who’ve had a positive impact on you, and also endorse them for key skills.
- On LinkedIn, DO make your headline more than your job title. You’re more than any one job. Share a comprehensive over-arching statement of who you are as a professional over the trajectory of your career.
Tip #4: Be someone who is easy to help.
Overall, the key message here is don’t be lazy or passive in your process of finding and vetting jobs that will help you thrive in your career. Do your part fully to build professional success and to embark on an exciting new chapter.
- Develop an ideal job description of what you want to do next, with all the criteria, qualifications, areas of expertise, etc. of a job you’d love to assume, and share that widely with your mentors.
- If you don’t have all the qualifications for the job you want, take steps to close those power and skill gaps. Take a class, earn a certification, volunteer, intern, etc. to build those skills.
- Remember to go for a job even you only have 50-60% of the qualifications, not 100%. Research has shown that often men will go for jobs when they only have 60% of the listed qualifications, but women tend to go only for roles where they have 100% of the qualifications. Don’t make that mistake. Go for stretch roles. Jobs are often created and shaped for the right candidate.
- Make a list of 20 organizations that you’d love to work for, and find within your existing connections (people you’ve already built a relationship with) someone who might know of an individual who works there that you could speak to.
- Do your due diligence—read about your desired organizations on salary.com, glassdoor.com, LinkedIn, etc. to get a real feel for what’s behind the scenes (work culture, style, diversity, etc.).
Tip #5: Finally, understand that success in your job search and career is inextricably linked to how you feel about yourself internally and how you talk about yourself externally.
It’s essential to understand and communicate the core value you deliver, and the positive impact you can make in a new organization.
If you lack confidence, self-worth, and a clear assessment of what you offer, and you need to develop a stronger ability to communicate what you bring to the table and how you stand out from the competition, then get some outside help. Close your power gaps, and take brave action today to stretch beyond where you believe you are.
Once you do, doors will open and your potential will soar.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a career and leadership coach, speaker, educator, and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professionals build their most rewarding careers through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs, Finding Brave podcast, and her new Most Powerful You course.