The Art (and Science) of Professional Networking

Harry was an adult bear then. Every morning, he used to brush up his canines after waking up and went to the portion of stream which was flush with salmons to hunt. And guess what he caught on most days?

Disappointment!

He was surprised why he could not meet with success when everyone else could catch a decent meal every day. The problem was neither lack of efforts nor location (he was surely at an Ivy League end of streams); it turned out that spray-and-pray did not work during hunting.

The art of networking and job hunting is no different. Someone rightly said: “If you ask for a job, you probably will get nothing. However, if you ask for an advice, you will get experience (and job as a rub-off effect).”

The last few months have changed times like never before in this century. While economies have been ravaged, these times have still seen certain sectors grow. Even in sectors that have been impacted, there are verticals and horizontals that are still upbeat and hiring.

Job search, therefore, has moved from a mere spray-and-pray to a focused shoot-to-kill approach. In times like these, it is, therefore, imperative that one must have a more structured and thoughtful approach to job searches.

Let us discuss the strategy in two parts:

  1. Professional networking through LinkedIn
  2. Job search from other platforms, including company’s website and online application

Professional Networking through LinkedIn

Over the years, LinkedIn has emerged as the most relevant platform for professional networking and building business relationships. Almost all companies today use LinkedIn to search for talent and to share updates. Be it an executive or a CEO, unless they are living under the rock, in all probability they would be on LinkedIn.

People use LinkedIn extensively to successfully approach managers of their prospective companies and land a job of their choice. However, there are some rules one should follow while approaching the concerned person of prospective companies:

  1. When looking for a Job/Role

    a. Connect to relevant prospects: Check on LinkedIn the role for which you intend to apply. There might be a reference of the hiring manager. If not, research from your network and figure out the details of the hiring manager. In case you still do not manage to connect to the hiring manager, connect to the HR point of contact (POC).

    b. Send a personalized message: When you send a connection request on LinkedIn, an automated message is generated. Do not send the automated message. Rather, send a personalized message to the prospective connects.

    c. Incrementally build a relationship: When you intend to connect with someone on LinkedIn, ask for advice. It would be rash to ask for a job, especially if it is the first time you are interacting with the person. Use the platform for extracting more information.

    d. People love being valued: While everyone would like to put forth their agenda first, like in a relationship, you must compliment your connection or their organization for their achievements before moving ahead to ask for advice/help.

    e. Listening is as important: Be a patient listener and make notes when discussing over a video conference. Also, keep notes of queries you seek to clarify.

    f. Thanking for the call: Send a formal thank you note after you have had a meeting with your connection.

    g. Schedule the follow-ups: When you have reached out to your connection, let them know what your area of expertise is. In case there are openings, the connection will themselves ask for your resume.

    h. Measured follow-up: However, it is also imperative that you do not reach out too frequently or too soon. That might be a put-off for the other person. Follow up once a week with a polite message over any one of the media—that is via phone or e-mail or WhatsApp.

    i. Use a current tie for introduction: At times, you want to reach out to a prospect but do not have a direct connect. Use one of your current contacts who might be linked to the prospect. Use LinkedIn’s connect feature.

  1. To use LinkedIn to effectively highlight your profile
    LinkedIn is a powerful medium not just to build strong relationships but also to improve your online presence and reputation building. This is a professional medium and, thus, should be treated similarly. Some Dos and Don’ts for LinkedIn:

    a. Your profile should have a headline. Job details, description, projects, and certification tabs should be filled out.
    b. Keep adding all your professionals contacts on LinkedIn network continuously to ensure that your reach grows
    c. Choose the profile visibility option to “your name and headline” so that your prospects would care to check your profile.
    d. Get influencers among your connections with whom you previously worked to write recommendations for you. This is a useful early validation before people reach out to you for exploring an opportunity to interview with them.
    e. Avoid liking/posting any content that might encourage hate of any kind or could be termed as unprofessional and juvenile. When in doubt as to whether to endorse a post or not, take the simple judgement test: “Would you be comfortable sharing about the issues highlighted in post with your peers and bosses in office?” If the answer is no, avoid liking or sharing. This would help you resolve the dilemma.
    f. Use LinkedIn to post articles that would benefit others in the network. Posting at regular intervals helps you build a positive reputation and more followers.
    g. Check who has commented on your prospects’ posts. Connect with them as an ice-breaker to connect with your prospects.
    h. Join relevant groups (say if you are looking for consulting roles, join relevant job search groups). Also like and follow companies that you might be targeting so that you get regular updates on jobs and other developments from those companies.
    i. Engage in positive conversations in these groups; doing so would enrich the group members and direct their attention toward you.
    j. Do not talk ill of your company/superiors on LinkedIn. For one, this would get you in trouble with your current organization; it would also project you in bad light in front of other members of LinkedIn.
    k. If you are looking for a job, ensure that you set it to open for work. In case you do not want your current employer to know, the same can be updated through privacy settings.
    l. Connect with your school’s alumni in the prospective company. They are the ones who have an emotional bond with other alumni from school.

 Job Search from Other Platforms

Applying for jobs from a career website is like sending your application into a black box—you do not know what would materialize, if at all it does. With thousands of applications for a handful of jobs, most HR professionals and hiring managers have few seconds to assess a CV. It is, therefore, imperative that you set your job search correct. Few important points to note are:

  1. Find a referrer:  An application without a referral might not get noticed. Try and find someone from the network who can refer it to the hiring manager or the HR POC, if possible.
  2. Curate CV and Cover Letter: A one-size-fits-all CV does not work. Curate your CV as per the job description, highlighting points that are relevant to the advertised job. Also, prepare a cover letter explaining how you are the right fit for the job.
  3. Do not be a generalist: When curating a CV, do not make it a buffet offering. This is important because of a couple of reasons:
    1. Most hiring HR managers/software are trained to look for keywords while searching.
    2. People avoid hiring jack of all trades for roles that require specialization. A generalist CV does not give a clear idea of your expertise. It is, thus, important that you curate a CV strictly as per the job role defined in the post.
  1. Be polite, not servile: While writing a cover letter or following up with the POC, be polite and use formal language. However, do not appear to be servile.
  2. Use school’s e-mail ID: If you have access to your undergrad/grad school’s e-mail ID, use that to send follow-up e-mails. Many recruiters and hiring managers have a preferred list of schools. An e-mail from a school’s e-mail ID indicates where the applicant had been to, way before opening the CV.
  3. Follow up: Create a schedule for follow-ups. Have a curated message each time you send across an e-mail or a message for a follow-up. Be polite and do not show your frustration or anxiety in the messages.
  4. Acknowledgment note: Finally, whether you are successful in your endeavor to land a job, send an acknowledgment note to your connection and thank them for their support. Also, send across a thank you note to the HR person who apprises you of the result, whether successful or unsuccessful. This ensures that the relationship is intact for future.

The author is a seasoned professional.

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