Your Career Q&A: Turn an Anemic Network into a Professional Powerhouse

 

By Martin Yate November 27, 2018
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​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professionaltakes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.   

Everyone raves that networking is the best way to find a new job, but it isn't working for me. I've always been too busy doing my job to "network." Now I've been laid off. I've connected with as many people as I know, about a hundred, and it just isn't getting me anywhere. Am I missing something, or is networking just a way for you so-called career experts to fill up blogs and drum up business? 

You're wise to read things with a skeptical eye. Most everyone is trying to "sell" something. However, I think your comment about missing something might be a key to your transition problems.

The more unstable our workplace becomes, the more we recognize that the traditional but unspoken employer/employee contract—for economic stability and professional growth in return for hard work, loyalty and sacrifice—is broken. Thus, we have to take responsibility for managing the success and economic stability of our own careers. 

The Profession-Relevant Network

Marketers used to tell us that we have a sphere of influence of about a hundred people—that is until social media took off. Now networks of hundreds of people are commonplace. But network connections cannot be just people you've known. Yes, it is possible your barber or electrician may know accountants or artificial intelligence gurus who could help you get back in the saddle, but there are far more effective ways to network.  

You need to build a network of profession-related contacts. People like you know other people like you who are likely to know of suitable jobs and make introductions. And as this probably isn't your first job change and may not be your last, the bigger those professional networks are, the better.

Let's start with LinkedIn. Half of all professionals in the United States are on LinkedIn. Your LinkedIn profile is an important recruitment resource for HR recruiters and headhunters—so long as they can find you. To create a strong presence on LinkedIn, you first have to determine how you want to be seen. A revised resume is your most powerful job search tool. It generates synergy between the story told in your resume and that of your social media profile.

Check earlier columns about resumes (see the "Writing a Resume" section on this page) to learn how to make yours discoverable in resume database searches. You'll learn why and how to build a resume that is discoverable, readable and reflects the professional profile you want to show the world. This messaging can then be echoed in your LinkedIn profile, which means there's a consistent storyline with no disconnects. That will increase your chances of being approached. 

Who You Need in Your Network

Having a discoverable LinkedIn profile is a valuable, passive career-management tool, but the active ways you can build your network are just as important. Connect with people with the following titles who are working in the areas where you want to live:

  • The same title as yours, with more and less experience than you have.
  • Heads of other departments that you interact with on a regular basis.
  • Departmental administrators.
  • Titles one, two and three levels above you because:
    • These are the people who will hire you.
    • They'll often stay a step or two ahead of you throughout your career.
    • As we generally change jobs about every four years, they make for valuable long-term connections.

How to Leverage LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn has thousands of groups. The job search groups are taken up with career people trying to sell things. Instead, join the groups for people with similar and related professional expertise. Members of these groups exchange matters of common professional interest through comments and posts. Use others' posts to grow your network. See a post you like and either check the like box or respond with a complimentary comment. Make a note of the person's name, and then a day or two later send a connection request: "Liked your post the other day. Can we connect?" It doesn't matter whether you know that person or not; the group membership you hold in common allows you to approach anyone in that group. 

Beware the Trolls

Because Internet commenters and bullies enjoy critiquing so many things others say, I advise against giving your own opinions. Instead, curate what others have said and be seen as a source of good and sound information. For example, an engineer belonging to the IEEE association might say, "I know we're all busy, but if you didn't catch this piece on the IEEE site [add a link], it's well worth a look." This shows recruiters you are knowledgeable, plus anyone who likes or comments on your curated post can be added to your list of people to be approached for a connection in the next couple of days.

It's especially good to curate association content:

  • Association members are thought to be current and among the best connected, most committed members of that profession.
  • As someone who uses and shares association content, you are seen as conscientious, engaged and helpful.
  • Association content is reliable.

Follow this advice, and you'll build networks that can ease your current transition, and you'll have a wider sphere of influence to manage the success and stability of your ongoing career. 

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Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!

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