Everyone knows that referrals are the best way to land interviews, but are you taking advantage of the plethora of networking opportunities you likely encounter every day? Anywhere you can meet someone you don't know or might like to know better is a chance to network; the more people you meet and convince to invest a little time and energy getting to know you, the more chances you will have to push the door open to a job opportunity.
When you network, keep one thing in mind: always talk to people you don't think can help you. You read that right: you cannot judge a book by its cover, and you never know if the barista at your local coffee shop or bartender at the local watering hole may be able to hook you up with someone who works at your target company. Be open to the possibility that everyone you encounter is a potential link to your next opportunity and networking will be a lot more palatable.
Here are some places you may not have thought of as networking opportunities:
1. The unemployment office
Just because someone doesn't have a job doesn't mean he doesn't know people who do! Just as you have many skills, suggestions and areas of expertise, so do people you may meet while waiting to file for your unemployment benefits or at a workshop about how to write a better resume. Be generous with your expertise, ideas and resources and other people are likely to return the favor.
2. Recreational events or classes
Whether or not you are employed, it's always a good idea to attend events where you'll have a chance to meet new people. If you join a pick-up basketball or bowling league, you may have a chance to get to know new networking contacts who could help you land an interview.
If you think your networking needs a jump start, take a class. It doesn't need to be something related to work, and you may meet someone new while you learn something new.
In addition to being a nice thing to do, all types of volunteering can help you network. You never know when the person next to you serving up the main course at a soup kitchen may be a great contact. While volunteering for a charitable cause is terrific, also consider serving as a volunteer for your professional organization or association. These groups often need people to help out at conferences, and if you introduce a speaker at a national conference, it gives you a chance to meet him or her! Even working the registration table can be a great way to meet people.
4. Places with children and pets
Parents of children and "fur kids" have many opportunities to network. The dog park is a great place to meet people who share at least one of your interests, and if your children are involved in sports, ballet, art class or just enjoy playing outside, you have many chances to meet new people if you take your eyes off your phone long enough to make eye contact with someone. Keep in mind, if you're the parent who does nothing but complain or starts arguments at little league events, you aren't likely to win many friends.
5. At the gym
Typically, most of us don't welcome the opportunity to seek professional contacts while red-faced and sweaty, but the gym can be a great place to network. If you're really smart, tuck a few business cards in a pocket or in your gym bag and have them at the ready when you work out.
You know you can meet new people on all of the social networks, and that LinkedIn is the go-to professional network, but you may be missing some big networking opportunities online. Have you thought about how Twitter can help you land a job? It's become en vogue to tweet using a hashtag during televised sporting events and other high-interest programs. You can make a new networking contact tweeting praise for your favorite college team or during a televised red-carpet event. Don't ignore the non-traditional networking opportunities and you could meet a new fan.
7. At the coffee shop
Don't be one of those annoying people who won't stop talking to someone while he or she is working, but if you frequent a coffee shop, you may be able to meet some new people, both staff and other customers. Be polite and recognize when someone doesn't seem to want to talk to you (maybe he or she doesn't realize the value of networking). Don't forget to chat up the barista if you go in when it's not busy.
If you go to the mall or your favorite boutique, you may be able to strike up a conversation with someone – even in the dressing room. Most people love to be told that they look great in the outfit they are considering, so you have an easy opening.
9. At the hairdresser
Your hairdresser has the opportunity for extended conversations with all his or her clients who likely come from a variety of backgrounds. Don't miss the opportunity to tap into this potential network.
10. Anywhere there is a line or a wait
As long as you're not sick, any waiting room can be a great place to network. The post office or grocery store line may also provide good opportunities to have a brief conversation with someone new. If you're strategic about what you say, it's possible to begin a networking relationship with a stranger.
11. Wherever people gather
Yes, it's true: some people have successfully networked at funerals and wakes. You don't want to be disrespectful or attend such an event with the sole purpose of meeting a particular person, but if you happen to strike up a conversation while fondly remembering a mutual friend or acquaintance, there is nothing wrong with following up later.
When you keep in mind that your potential network is all around you, you'll be able to break out of your job search rut and be open and available to new opportunities to meet people. Keep in mind: it's easier to network when you're dressed for success, so put on something halfway decent, even when you go to the grocery store. And, even with Smart phone technology, it's always a great idea to have traditional business cards to hand out, even if you aren't currently working for an organization. Be sure to carry networking cards that make it easy for someone to know how to contact and stay in touch with you.
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