You may be no stranger to the advice that you should “make the most of your network.” But what exactly does that mean? And how can you get started?

It’s important to remember that networking isn’t reserved for corporate CEOs, nor is it just for extroverts who are comfortable socialising in a room full of industry professionals.

For the vast majority of us, it’s as simple as picking up the phone and reaching out, or going for a coffee with friends, extended family, and former colleagues.

When you’re looking for a job, it can be helpful to spend some time thinking about who you know – whether that be friends, family members, former colleagues, or even other job seekers.

Maybe you’ve always envied a friend’s career and feel that now could be the perfect time to get tips on how to get started yourself. Or perhaps you’re fresh out of ideas but can think of a well-connected former colleague who could offer you some ideas and inspiration. If so, then now could be a good time to get in touch and ask for some advice.

Many people are put off networking because they’re worried their contacts won’t have time to meet – or worse still, won’t want to meet. However, networking newbies are often surprised at how receptive others are to meeting up and talking.

Even contacts you may not have spoken to for a long time or may not know very well can be surprisingly receptive to speaking – and the wider you cast your net, the greater the range of opportunity you open yourself up to.

There are many benefits to building and maintaining strong connections with those around you – not just when you’re looking for work, but also later when you’re at work or even considering setting up your own business.

So, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of nurturing these professional relationships during your job search and beyond…

What are the benefits of networking?

Gain new ideas and perspectives

Making the most of your network can be beneficial, not only when you’re trying to land a specific role, break into a particular industry, or advance your career, but also when you’re looking for fresh perspectives and ideas.

Swapping information about obstacles, experiences, and future goals is an important part of networking, as it can help you to stumble across new opportunities and/or find solutions to problems.

By sharing your own insights with others, you’ll also get the added bonus of building your reputation as an innovative thinker.

Find a job that you love

You never know who could be hiring for your perfect job, or who might know someone that is. The wider the range of people you speak with, the more likely you’ll be to hear about job opportunities or companies that are hiring. This means you can submit your application quickly and beat the rush.

Networking is also a fantastic chance to explore a range of different opportunities and can expose you to roles that you hadn’t thought of or didn’t know existed. If you haven’t come across your dream job yet, why not try speaking to a few people you know? You might be surprised at what you come up with between you.

Increase your visibility and get access to job opportunities

Checking in with people regularly can increase visibility by keeping you fresh in people’s minds. This means they’ll be more likely to call you if they come across a relevant job opening.

Get a first-hand account of what it’s like to work in a job, industry, or company that you’re interested in

One of the best ways to increase your knowledge and understanding of a role or industry, so that you can make informed decisions about a career move, is to speak to someone who already works in that field. Even if you don’t know anyone directly, there’s a good chance that someone else in your network does and could possibly introduce you.

Reading about a job role online isn’t the same as hearing about the highs and lows first-hand, which can help you to make sure that your next role is the right one for you.

You may also be able to gain industry and/or role-specific tips and advice on your job application and even the interview process itself – which could help give you an added advantage when it comes to applying.

Keep up-to-date with current trends and information

Employers will generally be more impressed by candidates who can demonstrate that they’re up to date with current trends and information related to a specific role or industry.

While it can be useful to conduct research online, it’s sometimes difficult to know how up-to-date this information is. It’s also unlikely to have the same depth that you could receive from speaking to an insider.

Gain confidence

When you’re making a career change or looking to develop your current career, it can be an exciting yet daunting prospect.

However, one of the best ways to boost your confidence and overcome any fear barriers can be to speak to people who work in the relevant role or industry, so they can bring you up to speed and help you with your application.

This, along with continuously stepping outside of your comfort zone to reconnect with old friends and meet new people, should help to build your self-confidence which you can then take with you anywhere!

Strengthen your connections

By regularly touching base with people in your network, you can work together to move towards professional goals.

Sharing information helps to strengthen relationships, meaning you’ll feel more comfortable calling on each other for professional support and advice in the future.

Even if you land your dream job, it’s possible that you may need some advice or guidance later on if you decide to advance your career.

How can I use my relationships to help me find my next opportunity?

Given the benefits of networking, you may be wondering how to get started. For some, it’ll come naturally, while for others, it may take a little more planning and preparation – but don’t worry, everyone can do it.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like the idea of starting up a conversation with someone you don’t know very well, these next steps should provide you with a helpful starting point.

1. Think about who you already know both personally and professionally

The easiest way to start networking is to sit down with a pen and paper and think about all the people you already know who might…

  • Have some useful skills or experience that you could learn from.
  • Work in a job role or industry that you’re interested in.
  • Be well connected themselves with a broad range of interests.
  • Work in HR or recruitment who could provide tips on your CV & applications.

These could be friends or family members, former colleagues, friends of friends, or people who you’ve connected with one way or another on LinkedIn. Jot down the names of these people, as well as how you’ve come to know them because this will give you a better idea of how might be best to reach out to them.

For examples, if they’re a former work colleague then you may only have contact via email or LinkedIn. Or if they’re a family member, you might be able to speak to them when you visit them this weekend, and so on.

If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, now would be the ideal time to set one up. LinkedIn the ultimate social media tool for professional people of all ages who are looking to stay connected to the latest employment opportunities and information.

It can also be an efficient way to keep track of all your professional contacts as they move from company to company. Our article, Changing careers – how to use LinkedIn to get a new job, should help you get the most out of your LinkedIn experience.

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2. Aim to contact at least two people a week

Once you’ve made your list, you may feel unsure how you’re going to tackle it alongside the other elements of your job search. But the most efficient way to do this is to set smaller, more manageable goals.

To steadily boost your confidence, it can make sense to start by contacting people you have the strongest relationships with, even if they don’t appear to be in the most helpful role or industry themselves. This can feel like a more manageable place to start – even if it’s just picking up the phone or going for a coffee with friends or family! It’ll also give you an opportunity to practise your skills and hone the questions you may want to ask in a safe environment.

When you’re feeling more confident, the next step is to try ranking the people on your list in order of who you think you would benefit from exchanging information with most. Then, try working your way down the list by contacting at least two people a week (more if you have time).

While its helpful to have a plan like this, it can be truly surprising where your next opportunity can come from, so we’d still encourage you to connect with those who don’t immediately seem to work in a relevant area. You never know what their passions outside of work are, whether they’ve moved careers themselves, or if they’ve gone through a similar situation to yourself. Quite simply, the more people you speak with, the more opportunities you create to find out useful information.

3. Decide how you’re going to contact the people on your list

The strength and type of relationship that you have with each person in your network will usually determine how you’re going to contact them.

For professional contacts…

If you only know someone in a professional capacity, it’s best to connect with them via email or LinkedIn to arrange a catch up call or meeting — for example, coffee or lunch at a time that suits you both. A brief explanation of what you’d like to talk about and an expression of interest in how they are and what they’ve been up to is all that’s needed.

Keep the initial message brief, as your aim is simply to arrange a time to speak. You don’t want to overwhelm them with lots of questions at this point as they may it off putting – particularly if they’re busy.

Finally, it’s important to remember that effective networking is about sharing information, not simply taking it. You’ll almost certainly have useful information or insights to offer the other person, even if you don’t know it yet! The most solid connections are built on give and take, so be prepared to offer up any helpful information and advice of your own if the opportunity arises.

For personal contacts…

If any of the people that you have in mind are personal connections – for example, friends or family members (even ones that haven’t spoken to in a while) – there’s no reason why you can’t reach out to them over the phone. This can either be to have a chat there and then, or arrange a convenient time to meet for lunch, dinner, or a longer phone call.

This gives you a chance to have a proper catch-up, both personally and professionally, and opens the door for you to start calling more regularly to ‘check-in’ and exchange new information.

4. Clarify in your mind what it is that you want to gain from your relationships with people in your network

To make the most of any time spent with people in your network, it can be beneficial to do some forward planning by deciding what specifically you’d like to gain from each of your meetings.

For example, if you have a very well-connected friend with a very diverse work history, perhaps you’re hoping that they’ll be able to introduce you to a few of their relevant contacts.

Or if you’re meeting up with a distant family member who works in a role that you’d like to apply for, then maybe you’d find it useful if they could advise you which of your skills and experience to highlight in your CV and cover letter.

Spending time to work out exactly what you want to achieve can direct the flow of conversation, make sure you cover all the essentials, and get the most out of the meeting. If you have a meeting lasting an hour, it’s worth prioritisng your goals for the conversation, as you may end up only having half an hour to ask questions and get your points across because of the back and forth between you. Always take a notebook, so that you can take away any helpful information and use it to move toward your goal.

With some people you meet, you may have a very clear view of what you’re hoping to talk about; while for others, you may not. But don’t be put off from reaching out to someone for fear of not having a firm set of discussion points.

While it’s still useful to have a loose agenda in your mind before you meet, try not to be discouraged if a conversation turns out to be relatively light and informal. It’s almost always more beneficial to reach out to someone than not, and some of the most helpful ideas and conversations can come from the people and places you least expect.

5. Once you’ve met up with someone in your network, decide when you’ll next get in touch

Before the end of a call or meeting with each person in your network (assuming it went well), you may want to try and arrange another date in the future to make contact. For example, in a couple of months time, or even in another six months or a year.

To leave a lasting positive impression, it can also be a nice idea to drop a follow up email afterwards to say how much you enjoyed meeting, provide any follow up information you talked about, and remind them how much you’re looking forward to meeting again.

Keeping in regular contact can help to strengthen the bond between you and feel more supported during your job search and career in general. By keeping the lines of communication open, you’ll develop a reciprocal relationship where you can call on one another for professional help and advice, as and when necessary.

My network is small – how do I meet new connections?

Consider connecting with other jobseekers

Sometimes, one of the best ways to feel less alone during your job search is to reach out to like-minded people. It can be easy to forget while you’re riding the job search rollercoaster that there are other people going through similar experiences.

You might not even be applying to work in the same role or industry, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t share tips, advice, and information with one another that you’ve picked up along the way.

We run a Facebook group called Over 50s Job Seekers and Career Changers, which offers job seekers a safe space to discuss the highs and lows of looking for work, and seek and offer advice. Why not give it a try?

Attend a job fair

If you’d like to expand your professional network, it’s also worth attending a job fair near you.

Job fairs take place all over the UK and can have up to 50 (or even more) employers in attendance – all looking for talent. Job fairs are the ideal place for employers and job seekers to come together to discuss their potential with one another and decide whether they could be a good match.

Many people find job fairs to be a helpful addition to their job search because they offer you a chance to meet employers in person and put your best foot forward. Even if you’re unsure whether a role is for you or you have no idea what role you’re even looking for, a job fair can help you to take away some useful company contacts who you can reach out to when you’re clearer on your decision and looking to apply.

They may also be able to offer further clarification on a role if you’re having trouble deciding whether it’s right for you.

Another, more overlooked benefit of attending a job fair is the opportunity it presents to meet other local job seekers who are in a similar position to you. This can provide yet another way to expand your network of local contacts.

Consider shadowing someone who works in the role or industry that you’re interested in working in

If you’d like to give yourself an advantage in the industry you’re interested in working in, where possible, iasking to shadow someone currently in the industry can be a great step to take.

If you have a contact name, it’s worth emailing them directly. Alternatively, you can address your email to the company’s main inbox e.g. [email protected], with the address ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To the xxx department.

Shadowing is an excellent chance to gain some relevant experience and meet people who work in the industry. These are people who may be able to offer you some support and guidance when you come to create your application, or who may remember your tenacity if you apply for a future vacancy at that same company. It’ll also show future employers how keen you are by being able to place the relevant experience on your CV.

Ask your current network to introduce you to new people

There’s a good chance that some of the people in your network will have useful contacts of their own who they could introduce you to.

The further you can cast your net the better, as you’ll increase your visibility and your chance of hearing about relevant opportunities as they arise. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to try and meet as many people with relevant skills and experience as possible.

Final thoughts...

While networking is a valuable addition to your job search that can help you find a job much sooner, it’s important to make sure that you’ve also taken the time to work on other aspects of your search – for example, your CV and cover letter and honing your interview technique.

A job search is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. When you decide to broaden your search by introducing a new technique (for example, connecting with others), you add another piece to the puzzle. Until, eventually, everything comes together and you land a suitable role.

So if you haven’t tried reaching out to others yet, why not give it a go? You never know what new opportunities could be just a phone call or an email away…

For more job-related help, head over to the jobs and careers section of our website? Here, you can find advice on everything from interview preparation to handing in your notice.