Alan De Back, author of "Get Hired in a Tough Market"
Career counselors constantly tell us that the best way to find a job is to use your network. More than 75 percent of job seekers find their next opportunity through their personal or professional networks. The problem is: How do you figure out who should be in your network and take your first steps towards building one?
Your refrigerator can help you build a network. You can identify who should be in your network and start building it by using the Refrigerator Exercise. The exercise is easy and painless and uses a household appliance that you probably use many times each day. Here's how it works:
5 simple steps
- Post several blank sheets of 8½-by-11-inch paper on your refrigerator and leave them there for at least a week.
- Write down the name of at least one person you know every time you open your refrigerator.
- Types of people to write down include current or former co-workers, friends, family members, neighbors, community contacts -- pretty much everyone you can think of whom you know in some way.
- Take down your completed lists after recording names for at least a week.
- Prioritize the names according to how much you think they know about your career field and how helpful you think they can be in your networking effort.
As you make your list you, shouldn't worry about whether you think a person will be able to help you. Just write down the names of everyone you can think of.
To prioritize your list after you've taken it down, consider this strategy: Label people who work in your field or you know well with an A. Label people who work in other fields or you know less well with a B. Casual acquaintances and "others" should be labeled with a C.
The more difficult part of this process now begins. How do you take the major list of contacts you've developed and make it manageable?
Using your networking list
- Begin with your A list people. They will be people whom you either know very well or people who work in your career field.
- With each person, think about what you can bring to the table so that you aren't a "user." Many people resist networking because they feel like they are using people. What can you do to make the relationships a truly two-way street?
- Whether it's an article you've found that might be interesting, a problem you can help with, or a lunch or cup of coffee, be prepared with some way of showing your thanks and willingness to make each networking relationship mutually beneficial.
Maintaining the network you build
The most important word to remember is communication. For your network to be successful, you must communicate with your contacts on a regular basis. Whether you are forwarding the link for a Web site that you think they might find useful or just getting in touch to say hi, the regular contact will make your relationship a true back-and-forth one and not one where someone is feeling used. You should also jump immediately when someone in your network asks for your help with something. They'll be much more likely to be ready and willing to help when you need assistance.
To help you keep track of your communication, you may want to set up some sort of log. Not only can you quickly refresh your memory about your previous contact with someone, but you can also quickly flag those contacts with whom too much time has passed since the last communication.
Finally, even though the communication with some members of your network may be electronic, remember that another human being is at the other end whenever you use any kind of electronic medium. Use the same level of appropriateness and courtesy that you would if you were connecting in person.
Your refrigerator can truly be an asset in building your network and finding your next job.
Alan De Back is the author of "Get Hired in a Tough Market." De Back has more than 20 years' experience as a career counselor and trainer in the corporate, academic and government arenas. His clients include the American Management Association, the American Psychological Association, the Department of Defense and the Virginia Employment Commission.