March 16, 2018 by

You can have the most polished resume and top-notch interview skills, but at the end of the day, knowing the right person may be your ticket to your next career move. Not only can the right people get you in the door at your dream company, by referring you as an ideal job candidate, but you may be able to snag a job before it’s even advertised. These jobs that never make it to wider audiences online are known as the “hidden job market”. And the way to get them? Network, network, network.

Networking is more than exchanging business cards at awkward social events. It’s almost an art. The goal is to create a web of contacts—long, wide, filled with contacts at all levels of the ladder. These could be people you’ve met at conferences, through previous jobs, at dinner parties or even neighbors. This is your network, and these folks could be your key to your next job, critical career advice and insider intel about a company you’re eyeing.

Building and maintaining your network won’t just serve you well for one career hop; ideally, it will be a foundation to rely on for the entirety of your career. Read on to learn some strategies for creating and maintaining a network, and for using your network to its maximum potential.

Start close and then widen your circle

Take the intimidation out of networking by starting with your friendlies. And we mean it – start with your friends and family! Add them to your LinkedIn, or make sure you have their information stored somewhere safe for future reference. Once you tap into your current contacts, then you can slowly start to expand your network by adding in contacts that may be more like acquaintances. For example, you may add in contacts from your university, people you met in an evening class, former colleagues and others.

The beauty of the follow up

When you want to stay in touch with someone, the goal is to never delay! Do it ASAP. If you meet someone at a networking event this evening, send them a note no later than the following day. Of course, you can connect at any time, but when you do it almost immediately, you’ll be fresh in their minds and they won’t mistake you for a stranger. It sets the stage for a mutually beneficial relationship. When you do follow up – say, via email or LinkedIn – include a friendly and concise note about how you met, what you enjoyed about the interaction and your desire to stay in touch. For example, if you met a contact last night at an event, you might say, “Hi, Amy! It was great to meet you last night at the women’s networking mixer. I enjoyed learning more about your work helping non-profits. I would love to stay in touch. Please let me know when you’re in San Francisco again and perhaps we can grab coffee.”

Make it a habit to stay in touch

Of course, once you reach out, the bigger challenge is actually staying in touch. Anyone can collect contact information and shake hands. Staying in touch is the real art of networking. Once you build up your network and it becomes hundreds of people wide, the challenge is not only how to stay in touch but with whom?

To tackle this, aim to do a rotating reach out. It doesn’t have to be overly strategic, but make it a goal to reach out to a few contacts a week to check in or say hello. Email is a completely appropriate way to do this.

Make yourself useful (and memorable)

When you reach out to contacts to nurture the relationship, try to be genuine in your interaction. Update them on your life (and possibly your needs), but also be sure to inquire about them – their life, their career, how they are doing in general. If every touch point is all about doing a favor that only serves you, you’re not going to get very far. Networking should be mutually beneficial.

Another strategy is to think about what your contact needs and offer to help. Could they be looking for another job? You could be a good contact or serve as fresh eyes for a resume review. Did you see an article online that they might enjoy? Share it with them. These little things can go a long way into building a valuable relationship over time.

The cold contact

At some point, you may wish to reach out to someone you’ve never met before to engage them in a new networking relationship. There’s no reason why you can’t, just have your expectations in line. The best way to do this is to be friendly, personable and explain why you’d like to connect. For example, don’t just blindly add folks to your LinkedIn contacts, especially without a note. That’s likely to turn people off because it feels like a lazy interaction (well, it is!). Make sure you send a note and let them know that you’re being thoughtful in your outreach. And, if you don’t hear back right away—or ever—brush it off. In the grand scheme, it’s not a big deal.