Unlike the Harvard or Princeton network confined to former graduates of each school your network should be as diversified and wide ranging as possible. You never know who might be in a position to help, so don't limit your group of friends. The more diverse they are, the greater the variety of information they may supply you with.
...to include everyone you know in your initial networking list friends, relatives, social acquaintances, classmates, college alumni, professors, teachers, your dentist, doctor, family lawyer, insurance agent, banker, travel agent, elected officials in your community, ministers, fellow church members, local tradesmen, and local business or social club officers. And everybody they know!
Make a list of the kinds of assistance you will require from those in your network, then make specific requests of each. Do they know of jobs at their company? Can they introduce you to the proper executives? Have they heard something about or know someone at the company you're planning to interview with next week?
The more organized you are, the easier it will be to target the information you need and figure out who might have it. Begin to keep a business card file or case so you can keep track of all your contacts. A small plastic case for file cards that is available at any discount store will do nicely. One system you can use is to staple the card to a 3 x 5 index card. On the card, write down any information about that contact that you might need later when you talked to them, job leads they provided, specific job search advice, etc. You will then have all the information you need about each company or contact in one easily accessible location.
Learn the Difference...
...between an informational interview and a job interview. The former requires you to cast yourself in the role of information gatherer, you are the interviewer and knowledge is your goal about an industry, company, job function, key executive, etc. Such a meeting with someone already doing what you soon hope to be doing is by far the best way to find out everything you need to know before you walk through the door and sit down for a formal job interview, at which time your purpose is more sharply defined: to get the job you're interviewing for.
If you learn of a specific job opening during an informational interview, you are in a position to find out details about the job, identify the interviewer and, possibly, even learn some things about him or her. In addition, presuming you get your contact's permission, you may be able to use his or her name as a referral. Calling up the interviewer and saying, "Joan Smith in your human resources department suggested I contact you regarding openings for public relations assistants," is far superior to "Hello. Do you have any job openings in your firm?"
(In such a case, be careful about referring to a specific job opening, even if your contact told you about it. It may not be something you're supposed to know about By presenting your query as an open ended question, you give your prospective employer the option of exploring your background without further commitment If there is a job there and you're qualified for it, you'll find out soon enough.)
Don't Waste a Contact
Not everyone you call on your highly diversified networking list will know about a job opening. It would be surprising if each one did. But what about their friends and colleagues? If s amazing how everyone knows someone who knows someone. Ask you'll find that someone.
Value Your Contacts
If someone has provided you with helpful information or an introduction to a friend or colleague, keep him or her informed about how it all turns out. A referral that's panned out should be reported to the person who opened the door for you in the first place. Such courtesy will be appreciated and may lead to more contacts. If someone has nothing to offer today, a call back in the future is still appropriate and may pay off.
The lesson is clear: Keep your options open, your contact list alive. Detailed records of your network whom you spoke with, when, what transpired, etc. will help you keep track of your overall progress and organize what can be a complicated and involved process.
Why Should You Network?
To unearth current information about the industry, company and pertinent job functions. Remember: Your knowledge and understanding of broad industry trends, financial health, hiring opportunities, and the competitive picture are key. To investigate each company's hiring policies who makes the decisions, who the key players are (personnel, staff managers), whether there's a hiring season, whether they prefer applicants going direct or through recruiters, etc.
To sell yourself discuss your interests and research activities and leave your calling card, your resume. To seek out advice on refining your job search process. To obtain the names of other persons (referrals) who can give you additional information on where the jobs are and what the market conditions are like. To develop a list of follow up activities that will keep you visible to key contacts.
Whether you are a first time applicant or reentering the work force now that the children are grown, the networking process will more than likely be your point of entry. Sending out mass mailings of your resume and answering the help wanted ads may well be less personal (and, therefore, "easier") approaches, but they will also be far less effective. The natural selection process of the networking phenomenon is your assurance that water does indeed seek its own level you will be matched up with companies and job opportunities in which there is a mutual fit.