How to Develop a Successful Networking Plan
The process of finding a job has changed significantly over the last few decades. In the past, applicants mailed cover letters and resumes to potential employers in response to newspaper ads. Now, most job openings are posted online.
It’s easy to apply online, but your chances of success are surprisingly low opens in new window. The average corporate job gets 250 resume applications, and simply posting your resume to a job board for employers to notice increases that competition by more than 1,700 times. While applying to online job ads may still be a necessary part of a job search, more people are relying on a networking plan to improve their odds.
According to a 2016 survey opens in new window, 85 percent of all jobs are found through networking. Developing a networking plan is a proven, effective way to not just find a job, but to improve your chances of finding a job that’s a good fit for you. In addition, a good networking plan involves building and nurturing relationships that can last for years and benefit both parties. Networking also improves your social skills and boosts confidence, making you a better all-around candidate.
Establish Networking Goals
Before you start looking for people to network with, you need to determine your goals. Trying to find a new job is a good starting point, but it shouldn’t be the only goal. A good networking plan can help you develop your technical skills, improve your ability to communicate, create relationships with potential customers or clients, build your reputation within your field, and more. By knowing the ideal outcomes for your networking plan, you’ll be able to steer conversations effectively and set up meetings with the right people.
Networking isn’t just about you. In fact, one of the most powerful tools in a networker’s arsenal is generosity. If you treat everyone as important and do what you can to help them, you’ll start to build real connections and relationships that can pay off later.
That said, it’s important to know where to place your focus. Determine who in your industry is most likely to be in a position to help you reach your goals — then prioritize, establish, and nurture those relationships.
In addition to having an overall networking plan, it’s important to do some planning before each networking meeting. If you’re going to have coffee with an important contact the next day, spend time thinking about conversation topics, questions you want to ask, or ways you can help the other person. Research whether the individual knows anyone you want to connect with and prepare to ask for an introduction. Understand the value you bring to the table and be willing to talk about it. After all, effective networking is about helping other people so that they’ll help you later; create a compelling reason for them to stay in touch with you.
Research and Schedule Networking Events
There are numerous networking events in every field, and they come in a variety of different formats. You might consider finding conferences or conventions that are popular among people in your field, attending talks, or finding casual social events such as happy hours or quiz nights where you’ll run into people you want to meet. Social media is a good resource here, and there are numerous online tools for finding networking events, such as Meetup and Eventbrite.
As with your networking plan, preparing and setting goals beforehand can be valuable. If you know what you hope to accomplish at a networking event, you’ll be better equipped to achieve it. It’s often better if your goal isn’t to “find a job.” Networking events are great places to learn new skills and make new connections, and some events can be good ways to have fun with potential contacts in a setting that’s less formal than a job interview.
You can get a lot of mileage out of hosting your own networking event. Not only do you decide who to invite, but being the host also positions you as a leader within your professional community and a person who organizes events to help peers. If the event goes very well, it can be a tremendous boost to your reputation within the industry.
If you choose to host a networking event, make it convenient to attend. Pick a venue that’s easy to access, and make registration painless. Doing your best to meet all your guests and ensuring they get value out of the event can go a long way toward making it (and you) a success.
Take Action: Organizing, Developing, and Nurturing Contacts
Organization can be useful when you’re enacting your networking plan. Separating contacts into a two-tier system can help you prioritize meetings and get the most out of them. These tiers don’t denote the value of the contacts, but rather an insight into how good your prospects are right now. Tier one contacts are good prospects you know fairly well, people on whom you can rely for referrals and recommendations. Tier two contacts, on the other hand, are still in development; they may be just as valuable in the long term, but will require more investment to reach the point where you’re comfortable asking them for assistance.
When meeting or interacting with contacts, remember that generosity is powerful. Start by trying to figure out what you can do for them. When it comes time to ask a contact for a favor, make sure it isn’t difficult. It must be a task the individual can complete relatively easily, without too much inconvenience and without being put in an awkward position. Initially, framing meetings as for advice or fact-finding can be a great way to establish rapport.
Finally, always schedule a follow-up of some sort. Make sure you both leave knowing what the next step is and when you’ll meet again. One of the keys to developing a strong networking plan is understanding that networking never stops.
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