When I was graduating from University of Utah, there were not a lot of companies that used to turn up for campus placements since we had a good but a very small department with less than 20 students in MS + PhD around then. While I had a few companies that interviewed me, I felt they were not the best fit for me…but was not sure what to do about it.
Linkedin was new back then..but felt like a place where I could find people in companies that I would like to work in. I started looking up people on Linkedin, and ended up with my first job at Amazon!
At that time, I did not know this was called networking. Since then, I have seen and helped many people kick start their career to get better jobs with networking.
Networking is an important aspect of a job hunt strategy. While we do keep hearing that we need to network, many do not realize how exactly to go about it.
The traditional idea one gets about networking is attending professional events and get-togethers in person and talking to people. However, networking online is a powerful channel to connect with people, for those who are looking to transition to a new career.
Building a relevant network is not an overnight effort and often takes time. It is useful to start creating your network several months before you start applying for a job so that you have a chance to build trust with the right people.
What kind of people do we want to network with ?
(a) People who are currently in the kind of roles you want to be in. You can find out from them what skills and background are required to be successful in the specific role.
(b) People who are hiring for the roles you care about, like a hiring manager or people who might know those hiring for these kinds of roles. You will get chance to establish a rapport with those who are hiring directly and check for yourself whether you will be a fit there.
Note: Be realistic w.r.t to what roles you are looking to be in. For instance, If you have just learnt data science through an online course over the last few months and are looking for your first data science/analyst job, it may not be very useful to connect with a top researcher from an ivy league school or a top scientist from one of the internet biggies like Amazon/Microsoft/Google as the skill set required to get a job there might be more specialized and takes time to develop.
What are some ways to find such people ?
- Friends and Family: Friends and family are a super powerful, often overlooked part of your network. This includes family members, colleagues, neighbours and acquaintances you might not actively be in touch with. Make a list of such people.
- Linkedin : Linkedin is the most popular online networking channel.
- Reach out to all relevant people in your existing network (make sure you add your friends and family on Linkedin as well).
- Reach out to people not in your network – you can search by company, look in special interest groups to find relevant folks. Note that It is important to keep in mind not to spam unrelated folks with random messages. At the same time, it is often OK to reach out to folks who are relevant to network with in a professional context.
- Online Networking webinars and breakout rooms. – more on this on a different post.
How do you Establish Trust with people in your network ?
Networking is often more than knowing people. Having a lot of connections is good, but an associated question should be “how deep are these connections ?”.
An important aspect of networking is establishing trust with your connection that you are indeed what you claim to be.
- A starter is to have a good linked in profile that clearly talks about your skills and accomplishments.
- Look carefully at the profile of relevant folks before sending them a message.
- Deeper connections are established through ongoing interaction. One way to have more interaction is to have a call and explain what your career goals are and try to understand the skills and background required to get there. You could also take the opportunity to briefly go over the work you did that might be a fit here.
- Once you have a meaningful conversation, it makes sense to follow up and keep in touch.
- Eventually it is useful to proactively ask if there are roles in their network that match your skills when you are actually applying for jobs.
To sum it up, 6 to 12 months before you are looking to transition jobs, it is important to start building your professional network. While applying for jobs through online portals is one channel, the ability to create and harness your network, get feedback about your skills and iterate over them to get the right job is often a more powerful strategy.
Networking might be all that makes the difference to not just help you find “a” job, but the job where you fit best.