If at any point you lack contacts, fear not. LinkedIn is an excellent online professional networking community. Or, use the alumni services for your educational institutions. Go to conferences. Join the local chapter of your trade or professional society. Volunteer at your local science museum. Use recruiters and educators local to you. Google searches even have resulted in valuable contacts for me.
Do not ask your new contact for a job. If the information is not freely given, ask, “Do you know of any current or future opportunities for someone with my credentials?” or “How do you suggest I approach finding this type of job?” These questions have triggered job possibilities for me, leading to job postings I had not seen and new people to contact.
If you persevere with your networking project, your contact base will build quickly. Start a spreadsheet to record basic contact information: date, name, number, e-mail, company, job title. Include how you know the new contact, e.g. a “Referred by” column. This last column is crucial. When you call or meet with one of your contacts and hear, “So, how do you know Mark?” you had better be sure you know which Mark and what this Mark does.
Give yourself a timeline for reinitiating contact. Three to four weeks after making your connection, send an e-mail to check back in. The e-mail should be personal. Refer to something you had previously discussed, what steps you have taken toward one of the suggestions from your contact, etc. This makes you pop back on the radar screen and gives your contact the chance to mention new job leads.
A follow-up thank-you note is crucial. Every single time you speak to or meet with someone in an informational interview, write “thank you for taking the time to [meet/speak] with me. I appreciate the advice you gave me concerning [something specific you learned].”
“Remember that the folks you are connecting with have lives, too,” says Laura Dominguez Chan, a career counselor at Stanford’s Career Development Center. “Be appreciative throughout the networking process and minimally send an e-mail message thanking them for their time.” Based on a recent survey by Chan, most contacts had not received letters of thanks. The few written thank-you cards stood out like gold stars.
If, like me, you dislike asking for help from acquaintances or strangers when it isn’t clear how to repay them, I have good news. People love talking about themselves! Three months and 90 contacts later, I can now give each new contact two of their very own new contacts. My networking adventure is still a work in progress, and I’m still out there searching for that tailor-made job. Along the way, however, I have gained much insight and advice.
The Stanford Career Development Center’s motto is “Connect, Respect, Reflect.” These three words make a world of difference between unemployment and employment. “Integrate [networking] into your goals,” says Chan, “and if you are job searching, then by all means make it a priority. Look at networking as research.” Scientists love research.