Few people love to network. Making small talk with strangers while working out how to hit them up for a favour is no one’s idea of fun. However, if you’ve got your heart set on a career change into a new industry, your chance of successfully breaking into that new industry rises exponentially when you know some influential people in high places. But while networking definitely works, you’ll only get the best results if you know how to network… effectively. With that in mind, here are the six best ways to network your way into a new career.
Start with the people you know
When embarking on a career change into a brand new industry, it’s easy to get carried away with the newness of it all and forget about the contacts you’ve made to date.
Your friends, family, and current and past colleagues all know people you have no idea that they know. And we’re all more likely to help out a friend of a friend than a stranger behind an email.
If you’ve decided that a career change is the right thing for you, the first networking strategy you should employ is telling people you know about your new career and asking them who they know in your chosen industry.
Ask your LinkedIn contacts for an introduction
The strategy of asking people you know doesn’t only work in real life, it also works on LinkedIn. While you can always send strangers on the platform a message or connection request, that connection is more likely to lead to something useful if you are given an introduction by an existing LinkedIn connection.
If you’ve identified someone you’d love to talk to on LinkedIn, resist the temptation to send a connection request or a message. First, check if any of your contacts are connected with them and ask for an introduction.
Send emails with a specific ask
Hands up if you’ve ever sent an email asking someone you admire for a coffee or chat. Keep your hand up if you’ve received radio silence or been fobbed off with an ‘I’ll get back to you’ that never happened?
Most people aren’t jerks. If it’s easy for them to help you, they will, and if they can’t, they’ll tell you. But if people are ignoring or dismissing you with no clear explanation, it’s likely that you’re making the classic networking faux pas: not asking for anything in particular.
Vague emails telling someone you love what they do and would love to chat are confusing. The recipient has no idea what you want, and how much time and attention you’re going to need. With too many unknown variable to handle, they are likely to put you at the bottom of their to-do list and subsequently forget all about you.
Everyone is busy, so respect their time by keeping your emails fairly short and making a clear ask. If you don’t know what you want from that person and you just want to put yourself on their radar, the best thing to do is to leave them alone until you know exactly what you want from them.
Never ask for a favour early on
A clear ask is vital for networking success, but make sure you aren’t asking for favours from the offset. Would you give a stranger a job, recommend them to your boss, give them your contact book or spill all about how you ‘made it’ on first meeting? Of course not! You need to make sure the person is reliable and competent before you risk your reputation by opening them up to your network.
Don’t put people in an awkward situation by asking for any favours when you first meet. This applies to face-to-face networking and as well as online. You should always establish a strong relationship with the person over the course of a few months before asking for anything other than advice.
A great way to keep yourself from the discomfort of going to random events, sending random emails and arranging coffee meetings with strangers is to convince yourself that ‘it won’t work’, ‘they can’t help me’ or ‘it’s a waste of time’ before you’ve even tried.
However, this is THE fastest way to stay stuck forever. Unless you have tried a specific approach with a specific person, there’s no way you can know for sure that it won’t work.
Make no assumptions and just give things a try. You literally have nothing to lose.
Don’t exaggerate the relationship you have with your connections
Networking really is all about getting people to like you and there’s no quicker way undermining your networking efforts than by lying. When you feel under pressure or eager to impress, you may find yourself exaggerating who you know and how you know them.
However, remember that you don’t know who the person you’re networking with knows. If you claim to know someone you don’t or have a better relationship with an acquaintance than you do, you may be quickly and publically outed as a liar.
And that’s just awkward for everyone involved.
Did we miss any major ‘how to network’ tips that you live by? Let us know in the comments below.
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