Networking Not Your Thing? (Hint: You’re Already Doing It.)

Gone are the days when networking meant slapping on a name tag at an industry event, glass of self-confidence in hand, trying to make small talk with strangers, and exchanging business cards that would inevitably be lost or tossed. 

Whew! Glad that’s over. 

But there is still a valuable role that networking plays in your job search. Many jobs are posted for public viewing, but a lot of them are not. They’re filled internally or from within a manager’s network (“Hey, I know someone who would be perfect for this position. I used to work with her at XYZ…”). 

And even if you do find the perfect position posted online, having a contact who works at the company is definitely going to boost your chances of getting your application in front of the right person. LinkedIn is a great place to start building connections. Just make sure your profile is up-to-date.

“Networking can also be a pivotal part in figuring out the kind of job that is best for you,” says Emily Askri, program manager at Path Forward. “By talking with friends, old colleagues, and acquaintances you can learn about different roles that exist in your career or outside of it and what skills are required.” Tap into other people’s knowledge, pick their brain, and ask questions. Most people are willing and happy to share information. 

Don’t be shy or embarrassed about looking for work or how long it’s taking. You’re not alone! You took a caregiving break for a good reason and have so much to offer when you return to work. 

Speaking of shy, if the thought of networking makes you want to crawl into a hole, fear not. The truth is, if you’ve ever found a pediatrician recommendation at a Mommy and Me class, struck up a conversation with a fellow dog walker, or agreed to manage a fundraiser after a PTA meeting, then you’re already networking. You just need to apply your networking skills to find a job you love.

“Cast your net wide,” says Askri. “When you volunteer at your local park, attend a faith-based group, or take part in a book club, use the opportunity to let your circle know about your job search.” These kinds of activities offer a chance to network in a conversational way that, for many people, is more enjoyable than a networking event per se. The more you connect with people, the better your chances of getting a tip, advice, referral, name, reference, and maybe even an interview. 

Your goal is to build relationships, whether it happens in-person or virtually. And don’t forget – there are many online networking platforms for you to explore and become part of a community, such as LinkedIn, PowertoFly, Elpha, Fairygodboss, Ladies Get Paid, and Facebook groups. If you’re not ready to actively participate in a virtual group, you can just listen and learn. 

Path Forward hosts many career focused webinars and we’re always awed by how quickly the chat lines heat up with participants commenting and sharing their own experiences and ideas, creating a supportive environment among job seekers. 

Bear in mind that successful networking isn’t just about your agenda. It’s about being open and honest and forging relationships. It’s not “what can you do for me” but about getting to know people and letting them get to know you. “Through that process of discovery you will find people you can help and people who can help you,” says Askri. “For some, providing a hand is very gratifying. Plus they know it’s good karma!”

Plant as many seeds as you can. Because even if a contact doesn’t have any useful information for you now, down the road they may email you about a fantastic job opening at their company that’s about to go live. 

And remember, expressing gratitude goes a long way. Always send a follow-up “thank you” or “so nice to meet you” email. We promise it will be appreciated and remembered. And so will you!