Networking through cold calling, professional organizations, and social events are all absolutely important and major components of a strong overall career search strategy, but it’s often difficult to find and start conversations with the people who might be able to help you in your career search. Luckily, the advent of social media sites like LinkedIn offer a way around those obstacles by giving you the ability to access industry professionals, recruiters and hiring managers through targeted searches, ultimately allowing you to tap into a larger network of people through your pre-established relationships.
These social media sites come with their own pitfalls, however, as the rules of engaging strangers are often unclear, this can make many people uncomfortable and cause a legitimate fear of being blacklisted for unknowingly committing a social misstep. Don’t be afraid, though! Like any social interaction, once you understand the set parameters, you can figure out how to operate appropriately and effectively within them.
Here are a few general tips when trying to build relationships using social media sites:
- Start with who you know, and then branch out. Friends, family members, coworkers and former coworkers are all great starting points when building networks on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, but use them only as starting points on the path toward your target company. Focus primarily on people you know who might know someone else who works in a company you are interested in, or people who may have connections to those companies. Also, try to network through people who currently or previously managed you, as they can support positive claims of your work ethic based on your past interactions with them.
- Ask for Help. Social media can be very beneficial to career seekers, especially those who may be transitioning into a new industry, as it gives the career seeker access to people who can give them time-tested advice about developing professionally. When searching for networking contacts, consider finding a few people who look like they may be effective mentors and simply ask if they might be willing to give you some advice about the industry. Just make sure you act professionally, give them a way out and make sure you are respecting their time.
- Be Helpful to Others. Whenever you are interacting with a networking contact, make sure they know that you are willing to help them in some way. It may be something as simple as suggesting an article related to their industry, or it could be a bit more complex, like submitting an internal reference for a job they’ve applied to; either way, make it clear that you are there to support them, and they will be more likely to do the same for you.
- Create Genuine Relationships. Even though you are probably networking to land your next position, avoid asking your networking connections about employment opportunities or recommendations/references up front, as it may be off-putting or inappropriate. Instead, try to let the relationship grow organically. Start off discussing a topic you both have interest in, and build off of it. The idea here is to cultivate a genuine positive relationship with the individual, in which both parties feel respected and can trust one another. Once you have achieved that, it is more than likely acceptable to ask for a referral.
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