Networking where to begin
A recent participant at our workshop explained her frustration at applying for over 30 roles, endless searches for jobs online and countless hours spent re-writing their CV. And then silence. The effort and intent was awesome and mirrors most people’s starting point when returning. Unfortunately, while it might feel like progress the reality of the job market is that most roles will be found through networks. So, if you want to get a job you will need more time out of the house and less in front of a computer!
The word “networking” may send you into a cold sweat. You don’t have a business card, what will you say, where do you even start and talking about yourself isn’t an inviting situation. It doesn’t need to be awkward and you don’t need to be an extravert. Let’s address the main barriers returners face with networking:
I hate networking
The thing is you do it all the time in other circumstances. Networking is all communicating and the cumulative interactions with people – ie: discussing medical options with practioners, dealing with trades people, school teachers, volunteer groups etc... Apply this same level of intent and purpose to your professional journey. Remember it is not about asking people for a job, it’s about planting a seed so they know what you do and that you are looking, getting access to another contact, or gathering a piece of information to move forward or see a new perspective. The more people who know you are looking the greater the chance of securing a role.
I don’t have a network!
A network isn’t defined as just old work colleagues. A network includes people you know form all facets of your life and this will no doubt include a lot people who are professionals or are connected to professionals. We do an exercise in our workshops that always leaves returners with an ‘a ha moment’ when they draw their network map and see it is much larger than they expected.
Examples on your network map could include: Family members, School contacts, sports teams, university, old colleagues, neighbours, volunteer groups
Where do I start?
Organic conversations are a great way to start. These may take place at the school gate or a sporting event. The common question “how are you?”, is an easy opening “I am great. I am actually starting the process of returning to work which is really exciting and looking at opportunities in x industry”. In most cases this will result in further questions. The seed is planted. You may find out your contact has a friend in that industry, or they may quiz you on your background - a perfect natural lead in for you practice telling your story.
I don’t know what to say to connect?
Organising coffee catch up’s or a phone conversation is really important. When you reach out to someone be sure to have a clear intent as to why you want to catch up ie: don’t ask to catch up to discuss your return to work to gather general info. It is too broad and means you are not getting the best outcome. Be specific in what you are seeking from the person you are contacting, make it easier for them to help you.
Example: Reasons to catch up could be to see if they have contacts in a particular industry or company, discuss a particular part of their industry you were looking at working in, seek advice on your CV and its applicability to a certain role, discuss a piece of technology they may work with, challenges your industry or your role faces etc..
Expanding your network
We have never had more access to learning opportunities to bring like minded people together. Join groups online where you share common professional interest. Ie: women in IT, energy, architecture, etc.. (there are many!) this could be on LinkedIn/Facebook.
Go to events about a topic that relates to the area you want to work in. There are so many free events, local council events, industry events. Each provides an opportunity to meet new people and share your story or gather another piece to your puzzle. Its ok to be uncomfortable and have that feeling of awkwardness when we walk in a room and not know anyone. If that is too paralysing find a friend. Join our facebook page and reach out to others on the same journey to go together.
And finally don’t give your life story and don’t spend the whole time justifying your break. State it. Move on. Be upbeat.
Remember to ask questions, be curious and 3 meaningful conversations can be better than 50 job applications.