As part of your overall job search strategy, networking offers a considered approach to meeting new people, gathering information and uncovering hidden opportunities. Talk to any career coach or veteran job seeker and they will wholeheartedly promote the benefits obtaining industry information and job leads by reaching out to personal contacts and your expanded people network.

Though you may be tempted, the key point to remember is that these interactions aren’t about asking for jobs. They’re about continually building your network in order to discover the needs and job openings of potential employers, so that you can position yourself to meet those needs as appropriate. Every connection you make is an opportunity to expand your awareness and visibility in the job market, as well as increase your knowledge about the job market and present solutions to those with whom you network.

Whether you’re looking to change jobs voluntarily or you’ve recently been laid off, networking is the single most effective job search method for you to employ. At an effectiveness rate of 70-80 percent, networking far exceeds responding to job postings (5-15 percent), working with recruiters (10-20 percent) and contacting companies directly (<5 percent). Despite its overwhelming success, many job seekers remain apprehensive about networking conversations because they don't like talking about themselves or they are afraid of not knowing what to say. Understanding the why and how of networking can alleviate those concerns.

Here’s why networking works
1. It’s a small world separated by six degrees. In other words, we’re all connected. At this moment, there is someone with whom you can link to a potential employer and another person who can direct you to a company in need of your abilities.
2. It gets you into the inner circle. Many available jobs are unknown to the public. They are part of the hidden or informal job market that is only visible to those closest to organizational changes, announced corporate plans, impending retirements, upcoming resignations or developing staff expansions.
3. By networking, you get “insider information” — referrals from mutual acquaintances or access to decision makers because they know you personally. Networking puts you in the inner circle of those in the know about job openings.
4. You get the real deal about company culture. Connecting with colleagues in your circle of influence can give you the inside story about what it’s really like to work for a particular company.
5. It creates awareness. As more and more people learn of your skills and abilities, they will seek out your expertise, especially when they know you are looking for new opportunities.
6. You get important insights. Networking gives you valuable feedback about how you present your skills, expands the number of people familiar with your value, keeps you current on what’s happening in the marketplace and boosts your confidence.

Here’s how to make it work:
1. Reach out to your existing network. You already know people who can help open doors to just the right career. Make a list of target contacts and set a goal to connect with them as soon as possible while you are in heavy job search mode. The more people you see, the faster you’ll build your network and the quicker you’ll be able to assess the job market in your area of expertise.
2. Network face-to-face whenever possible. Relationship development is more effective and contacts will typically invest more in you when they know you have expended extra effort.
3. Use LinkedIn, email or phone calls can when face-to-face isn’t an option. Be sure to carefully craft written and verbal correspondence to succinctly introduce yourself, state how you’re connected or how you found them, the reason for reaching out, and how you’d like to further the conversation, i.e. face-to-face meeting for 30 minutes at their earliest convenience, a 20-minute phone call with a few date and time options, etc.
4. Get out and about. Go to professional association conferences, happy hours and meetings. Attend alumni or charitable events and fundraisers. Use these times to meet and have purposeful conversations with at least one person with whom you’d like to follow up for referrals or subsequent meetings.
5. Be authentic. Have something to offer to those with whom you network. Be genuinely interested in others and avoid coming across as if the meeting is only about what you can get from the other person.
6. Be prepared. Communicate a clear, genuine message about who you are and the value you bring as a professional. Write down at least three statements of your professional worth along with a list of accomplishments, including results achieved over the course of your career. Practicing saying the statements out loud helps you get comfortable talking about yourself and gives you something relevant and substantive to say.