Not to state the obvious, but when it comes to networking, the one-and-done coffee date just doesn’t work. Paving your way to a new 9–5 takes time, patience, and more than a few nonfat lattes—it requires making real connections. And, it’s as important now as it’s ever been: According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most jobs are found through networking.
“Networking is every human interaction,” says Kelly Hoey, former practicing lawyer, investor, and new author of Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World, a passion product she anecdotally refers to as How to Win Friends and Influence People for the digital age. “We’ve got to step out of the mindset that networking involves walking into a cocktail party or having an informational coffee date with somebody,” Hoey explains. “Networking is your email signature line. It’s your profile on Twitter. It’s your business card. If you start looking at the micro-actions you undertake on a daily basis as networking, you can realize you have a far bigger chance of making an impact that will improve your career than if you worry about that one big cocktail reception or that one big party and whether or not you’re going to collect a bunch of business cards and transform your career.”
So, before falling down the Indeed.com wormhole, check out these tips for making real and lasting career connections—you know, the kind that may just lead to a new job.
Stop committing random acts of networking.
Before jamming your calendar with a myriad of cocktail parties and drinks dates, take a moment to map out your end game. “Everything for me comes back to a goal,” says Hoey. “So much networking advice starts with: You should attend a meet-up, you should be on this platform, you should have your elevator pitch when you walk into a room, you should have your business cards in your right pocket. But if you don’t know why you’re in the room in the first place, then it’s random.” To that end, Hoey advises job-hunters to clearly define their goals within a specific, tangible framework. Then, start thinking about the people who might be able to help you advance—or even achieve—your goal. Where are they hanging out? What’s the best way to communicate with them? “Being really thoughtful and deliberate might be the most considerate thing you can do when you’re networking.”
Think of social media platforms as physical spaces.
Thanks to the growing hyper-connectivity of the globe, executives, thought leaders, and headhunters are only a like, follow, and tweet away. While it’s never been easier to reach out and expand your network via social media platforms, it’s also never been easier to put your digital foot in your mouth in the form of an inappropriate photo, comment, or status update to the masses. “I think of social media networking platforms as physical spaces,” says Hoey. “How do you behave and how do you engage with someone in a particular physical space? LinkedIn for me is the office or the industry conference, Facebook is friends and family, and Twitter is the cocktail party. So, are you the good guest that someone wants to talk to?” While it may sound like common sense, before posting a status update, take into account the platform’s intended audience. “LinkedIn for me is my past life as a lawyer,” says Hoey. “It’s a suit and a briefcase. I want point of view, I want it cold, I want it dry. I do not want to know what anyone had for lunch.”
Assume the mindset of the host.
We’ve all been there: you’re standing in the middle of a networking event sans plus-one, awkwardly fiddling with your oversize nametag, rooted to the floor. You’re uncomfortable, unsure of who to approach, and starting to wonder why you left the cozy confines of your couch for this strained shindig. “If you’re uncomfortable, in a room of 100 people, I can promise you: Other than the bartender, everybody else is uncomfortable,” says Hoey. “Everyone has an anxiety. If you start worrying about how other people feel, and think ‘let me make them comfortable,’ you can take away your own discomfort.” And, hopefully, make some new friends.
Combine your online and offline pursuits.
“This is not an era in which you can just network online or just network offline,” says Hoey. “You need to be amphibious; you need to be able to work both.” If you’re looking to connect with a particular person outside of your existing network, start by first assessing how he or she likes to communicate. “I’ve had a lot of cold introductions and direct messages because we engaged on Twitter around shared interests,” says Hoey. “It may take you sending this person an email, reposting something they put on Facebook, retweeting or mentioning something they did on Twitter. It may take multiple touchpoints for you to get assurance.” Keep at it online, so when you engage in-person, your introduction won’t feel so cold.
Say no to 911 networking.
Panicking over a pink slip? Take some time to reflect on your wants and needs before reaching out to your network with a vague ask. “You never want to be a 911 networker,” says Hoey. “I think a lot of us have been fatigued since 2009 with people coming up at the last minute.” While Hoey wholeheartedly believes in leaning on your network when you need to most, she encourages job-hunters to get targeted and specific with outreach. “If you emailed me and said there’s been a restructuring at my start-up, they’ve let all of us go in the marketing function, I’ve been managing their social media accounts and taking care of their digital strategy for the past 15 months. I’m looking for a new role that’s going to enable me to do this, and I’m currently looking at these three other start-ups, or I’m thinking of going to a midsize company, and I see you’re connected to X. Now I can help you because you’ve given me a target.” Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance, but be sure to craft “I need a favor” emails with extra tact before hitting the send button.