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How to Build a Network When You Don’t Think You Have One

Think beyond the obvious when building a network. “Everybody you know is your network. Everyone—from former colleagues, to suppliers, relatives and friends, to your dentist and people in community or leisure activities. Ask yourself, ‘who do I know?’ That’s your network.”

Job-searching today is not a one-stop exercise, focused only on job boards. With 70 percent of jobs not published, networking is essential to connecting with people and opportunities, and making your availability known. Whether you are looking to move from your current role or have lost your job to a restructuring or RIF, your first step, according to Susan Baushke, a Career Transition & Mobility Consultant for LHH and independent coach, should be tapping into your network.

“I hear it all the time, ‘I just need a job. I don’t have time for networking’,” Baushke says. “But networking is the best way to get a job.” Many people, she adds, make the mistake of thinking of networking as a form of transaction: “They think, ‘I need to get the next job. So, if that person doesn’t have a job open, I’m not going to bother talking to them.’ Networking is an investment in you and your career growth. It’s a long-term strategy that gives short-term benefits such as an insider’s viewpoint and leads on jobs that aren’t advertised. But you need to create relationships as opposed to transactions. That’s a huge differentiation.”

If you’ve been in one organization for several years, or have just lost your job, you can easily be discouraged and think your former company colleagues comprise everyone you know. But Baushke encourages you to think beyond the obvious. “Everybody you know is your network,” she says. “Everyone—from former colleagues, to suppliers, relatives and friends, to your dentist and people in community or leisure activities. Ask yourself, ‘who do I know?’ That’s your network.”

From a professional standpoint, she says, a good place to start is thinking about people you would consider asking to be references—people with whom you’ve worked who can speak to your strengths and accomplishments. “Those will be the strongest people in your camp,” Baushke says. “Re-ignite those relationships; update them on what you have done since you worked together, new skills you’ve built, and your current strengths. Reconnecting also allows you to recall projects you worked on together, discuss skills you want to promote now, and share the companies you are interested in pursuing. Ask each person for 2-3 more people to whom they can introduce you. Connections lead to job leads.”
 
Tapping that network can be as simple as a phone call or message via LinkedIn, an invitation to coffee or a request for a 15-minute conversation. Developing this skill and flexing your networking muscle can help you find employment that is a cultural fit and meets your career objectives. “Each person you contact can speak to a particular skill you have,” Baushke says. “Collectively, their knowledge of you frames what you have to offer.”

And if you think you don’t have a network, you’re not mining deeply enough into your experience. “You do have a network,” Baushke says. “Identify people you know and start reaching out to them. If the word ‘networking’ scares you, just think of it as having a conversation. Show interest and ask questions. For example, ask about what their job entails, what experience was required to get the job, what their background and experience is, what are some of the problems and decisions they handle, and what do they like most about their work. Seek their insights on trends and issues in their industry. And ask for advice regarding your own job search.

“It’s all about talking to people and building relationships—start a conversation and you’ll discover job leads in the process.”