Me. My computer. Mugs of hot tea, and a quiet room. Searching for the perfect job, writing the perfect cover letter, and waiting. Job hunting is lonely business. But that’s only part of it. Arguably you should spend most of your time during a job search making human connections. That’s where networking comes in.

For some, the word networking conjures awkward rooms full of name-badged professionals, wine glasses in hand, moving about collecting business cards. Yeah, I hate it too. The kind of networking that will help your job search is more like relationship building. Let’s look at some of the benefits and how it’s done.

Good Things About Networking

First of all, networking could help you land a job. Maybe you meet someone who knows someone who can introduce you to someone who’ll give you a job. But beware, if this your only goal you’ll end up projecting a desperation vibe. In addition, if you decide the only people worth meeting are those who could benefit your career, you’re going to miss out on some worthwhile conversations.

Meeting professionals in casual settings can pay off when it comes to your real job interviews. You’ll become more comfortable talking about yourself and your career goals. It gives you the opportunity to refine your answers to questions so you don’t fumble when the stakes are high. And it’s a chance to hone your elevator pitch – the 30-second description of what makes you a great hire.

People love giving advice, and they appreciate the opportunity to talk about how they got where they are in their career. Networking is a way to gather accumulated wisdom and apply it to your job search.

Another benefit of networking is the simple pleasure of human interaction. If you’re conducting your job search while unemployed, or if you’re employed but can’t tell coworkers you’re looking, it can be great to shake off the loneliness and connect with people.

Networking How-to

Keep in mind that your objective is simply to meet people. When I started my recent job search, I connected with old friends, former co-workers, and vendor contacts from previous jobs. A friend shared that he once landed a job when his fiancé’s father put him in touch with an old college buddy. Anyone has the potential to be a good contact.

Start with people you know. Invite them to coffee or lunch. If you’re wondering about the etiquette in this case, you should be the one offering to pay. Sometimes your contact will pay, and when this happens remind yourself that you will do the same for someone in the future.

A few dos and don’ts for networking get-togethers: Do keep the conversation casual; don’t make it all about your job search. Don’t bring your resume; you can email it later or connect on LinkedIn. A business card with your personal contact information is a perfect leave-behind. Do ask for names of people who might be good contacts; don’t assume everyone will have them. Above all, be grateful. Send a personalized, hand-written thank-you note afterward.

As soon as you’re able, follow up with the new contacts you’ve been provided. The person making the referral may offer to send an initial email. This is ideal, but if you don’t hear anything after a few days, it’s okay to politely send a reminder. People get busy. Set meetings with this next layer of contacts and keep going. Now you’re networking, though it may seem as if you’re just having interesting conversations.

Be sure to stay in touch with everyone in your network, and do it in a personalized way. If you meet someone they know, send an email. If you come across an interesting article or learn news from their company, it’s a good excuse for a contact. And consider asking if there’s something you can do for them. Perhaps you could do a little freelance, consulting, or volunteer work.

Networking will always come easier for some people than others. You may never feel completely comfortable, but remember this: The people you’re talking to most likely had to do the same thing at some point in their careers. They understand what you’re going through. And, one day you’ll be in a position to help someone out and share what you’ve learned.

This is another blog article I wrote for my friends at AptoZen.

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