Networking for Job Seekers with Phiona Martin

“Job seekers are regularly told how they need to network to increase their chances of landing an opportunity. I agree with how important effective networking is to increase your chances of success in your job search. However, it is not a skill that comes naturally to everyone, and it is evident when I coach clients.” Phiona Martin

Career coach and thought leader in the field of Talent Management and Career Development, Phiona Martin is a registered Industrial Psychologist with a Master’s in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Having been on a lot of public platforms like news and radio shows, as well as publications, Phiona is no stranger to the public eye.

Asked how she would define networking; Phiona explained the two elements of networking. It is a mutually beneficial give-and-take relationship, more than a once-off relationship. Building a relationship based on what you can get out of it is simply unsustainable. People can see right through that. Networking is about building true authentic, mutually beneficial relationships. The benefits of networking go beyond just getting a job or funding for your business. It gives you access to a lot of insider information, which is important and insightful. It is also a way to get advice, especially when it comes to your career. Networking can get you access to a personal mentor, whether it’s situational mentorship or once-off mentorship. Sometimes you may actually end up getting a solution right at the beginning of the mentorship, and that’s perfectly normal. You can inform your mentor and appreciate what they have done for you by letting them know how their advice helped you or solved a problem for you. You are basically outlining that you want to keep the relationship open, but you do not require a mentor at the moment because of the solution they have already provided.

Networking is also an opportunity to help others and to add value to them. You need to also think about what you can do for them even if they are in higher positions than you. “I approached one of my mentors by reading their book and giving them feedback. In passing, they mentioned setting up a wellness program and needing resources. I went out of my way to source and find materials that I thought would be useful to them. I wanted to build a symbiotic relationship.” Sometimes it is a matter of listening to a person or introducing them to someone else. Sometimes it is about connecting them to other resources or sharing information. Anyone can do this.

In networking, there are weak ties and strong ties. Your strong ties are your family, friends, and people you talk to on a daily basis. Weak ties are people you know from a distance, sometimes you don’t know them at all. Sometimes we underutilize the networks around us. If you want new networks, you will have to access new resources and new people. If you are looking for a particular network, you should start with your strong ties. They may actually know someone who may be in the network you want. Be specific about what you want. If you’re looking for introductions, make it easy for the person doing the introduction. Referrals carry quite a lot of weight because someone is using their position or relationship to introduce you to someone that can be of use to you. Reaching out to ask for information is different from reaching out to ask for a job. People are more willing to make introductions if you are seeking out information.

Networking is an ongoing activity. You should not just network when you need something. Build a relationship, and relationships are not built overnight. You have to nurture the relationship before you need anything from it. Sometimes it is about getting someone who’s in the same field as you and growing together or joining a community of like-minded people. The level with which people extend themselves to you is dependent on the depth of the relationship you have with them. You can be in some relationships for years without needing anything from them. Sometimes they need your help and sometimes they refer you to someone. You can nurture a relationship without constantly being in someone’s face. Have a goal for networking. Your networking goal will determine how many people you speak to. You can start small and as you build your confidence and your goals become clearer, the more people you can network with. Prioritize the relationships you want to nurture.

Look at the interests and hobbies of the person you want to connect with to find common ground. The interests do not have to necessarily be professional; it can be a shared hobby. Set up a time for a coffee to solidify the relationship you have just established and be specific about the outcome of the meeting. This clarifies your needs and use of the other person’s time. If you’re being invited out for a coffee and the person has not specified the details of why they are inviting you out, you can ask them what they are looking to gain from the coffee meeting. Try and make small asks if the relationship is not yet solid.

If you needed to approach a complete stranger virtually whom you need something from, you can use LinkedIn to reach out on professional terms:

  1.  Make your proposition compelling and specific. When you are specific, people can decide whether they can help you or not.
  2. If it is someone you follow on LinkedIn it is better to engage with them authentically by commenting on their posts before you message them. Messaging someone you have been engaging with brings a level of familiarity and they are more likely to want to hear what you have to say.
  3. Make your messages personal, just not too personal. Generic and spam messages don’t get the time of day.
  4. Do not send long elaborate emails with several links. The shorter the message or email is, the more likely someone is to respond. Make it quick for them to decide.
  5. Message the right person that is able to help you. Sometimes people message the wrong person who is not even a decision-maker when they need one.

Sometimes it is about planting the seed for future interactions. You can keep your relationships warm by regularly interacting through posts on a platform like LinkedIn. Keep in mind that your comments and engagement must be useful and meaningful. Sometimes you may have a different perspective or some useful insight. Post that instead of generic and pleasant commentary. Sharing life updates is another great way to keep the relationship warm by updating them on your promotion or what you have been up to since the last time you met, or you can congratulate them on a life event or a promotion. This is a non-invasive way of keeping in touch. Stick to a professional networking site like LinkedIn instead of going to their more personal social accounts like Facebook. User discretion is very important.

Essentially, the success of any relationship lies in what you put in. Give as much as you take and keep it simple when networking. It’s a sure-fire way to get you the relationships you want and need.

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