Knowing the right people can play a big role in getting a job, so establishing a network of professional contacts is crucial
Of all the tools in the jobseeker’s arsenal, none is more essential than an ability to network. According to a High Fliers Research survey, a third of 2016 graduate vacancies will be filled by people who have already completed a placement with their eventual employers, so internships are clearly a gold mine of professional contacts.
“Any internship or work placement is a fabulous networking opportunity,” says Chris Rea, Business Services Manager at graduate recruitment website Prospects. “Get to know every single department on a personal level – both the people you need to know and the people you want to know – because that’s how you get people to remember you.”
For better or worse, this means socialising. Whether it’s going for drinks at the end of the day, going to company events or even just making small talk over the coffee machine, it will make all the difference to how an intern is perceived. Most importantly, keep up the effort after the placement is finished. Remember that networking isn’t just about unearthing job opportunities – besides acting as potential referees, contacts made during work placements can also provide invaluable insight into the culture of your target industry and the skills needed to succeed in it.
There is also no need to be ashamed of using friends and family to find a job. In fact, they remain among the best employment resources we possess, largely because that vital bedrock of familiarity and trust is already in place. Wider social groups shouldn’t be discounted either – bonds formed at sports clubs, societies or even alumni networks often yield unexpected career openings.
Careers events can also be invaluable if they are approached smartly. A five-minute chat with representatives of potential employers can often provide more insight into a company’s culture and recruitment criteria than any amount of online research. It also allows potential applicants to make influential first impressions, particularly if they follow up the chat with an email or a phone call. As with all of the above, get into the habit of exchanging details with anyone who might be useful. Over time, the instinct should become automatic.
Another reason why networking is so important is that the majority of vacancies aren’t formally advertised and, unfortunately, even the best CV and covering letter are of limited value if they’re not being read by the people who matter.
How has it come to this? Well, recruitment is an expensive undertaking. Aside from the administrative costs of interviewing, testing and application screening, most companies will also have made a considerable outlay on initial advertising and/or the services of a recruitment agency by the time the final hiring decision is made. In all, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) estimates that the average expense of filling a vacancy for senior managers is £8,000, and £3,000 for other employees. Given the prevailing economic climate, these are figures that companies are increasingly unwilling to sustain.
It’s not surprising, then, that more and more employers are choosing to bypass the traditional recruiting process, relying instead on a combination of internal promotion and word of mouth to meet their hiring needs. For students and graduates used to the convention of job boards and classified ads (not to mention a distinctly British preoccupation with propriety and self-effacement), this shift in recruitment practice presents a real challenge. Just how do you force yourself onto an employer’s radar without appearing presumptuous or intrusive?
The good news is that the process is a lot less of a minefield than it used to be. The old mantra of capitalising on social connections and family contacts still holds strong. But any graduate who can get to grips with the potential of networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will have an unprecedented advantage when it comes to finding a job. Why? Because social media has revolutionised how we make connections, and employers also increasingly use it to recruit new staff.
“People have always said that it’s important to network,” says Rea. “Until recently, however, it’s not been that easy to do. Social media has completely changed the game. It means that long before you even meet them or join their company, you can build up a professional relationship with individuals who could play a vital role in your fledgling career.”
With virtual interactions now easily outstripping physical ones, our capacity to sustain and develop contacts and relationships has never been greater. No one has more to gain than the graduate jobseeker.
“At the level of finding out about a recruiter and individuals that might work for that recruiter, resources like LinkedIn, online forums and Facebook communities give graduates a massive advantage,” says Rea. “You can actually get to know these people, get to know who they are and what they do. If you go for an interview, for example, there’s a very good chance that you could find out who makes up the interview panel, their background and what their interests are.”
Like any tool, however, a networking site is only really effective if used properly. Advertising your availability with a Facebook status is of limited value if the only people who see it are close friends. Employers are also likely to be put off if there’s no distinction between your private and professional profile, which is why many keep Facebook accounts carefully guarded while using a separate resource for professional purposes.
With more than 120 million members, LinkedIn is the king of professional networking sites. Profiles act as constantly evolving CVs, allowing users to showcase their skills and achievements while tracking vacancies and industry trends. Headhunters are constantly scouting the site for fresh talent, but it’s a good idea to boost your online presence by joining (and contributing to) the dedicated discussion groups and connecting with users already working for attractive employers.
Also remember that Google really likes LinkedIn, so your profile is likely to be the first result listed if an interested party searches for your name. It’s therefore very important to keep that profile updated and free of any potential embarrassments.
Short but sharp
Meanwhile, Twitter messages are famously limited to 140 characters, but it’s amazing what they can accomplish. With around one million vacancies tweeted every month, the microblogging site is well established as a cheap and effective recruiting tool. Most major companies and industry figures will have dedicated recruitment accounts. Followers are then informed of openings as soon as they become available – openings that often won’t be advertised anywhere else.
Jen, an aspiring journalist at the University of Cambridge, responded to a tweet from the Commissioning Editor of Cosmopolitan asking if anyone in her area was able to help out on a feature. Not only was she paid a fee for her time, the magazine now has her details on file should anything similar crop up in the future. “I would never have seen this job advertised if I wasn’t using Twitter,” she says. “Also, responding via a social networking site made everything so quick – I secured the job within the hour.”
However, while LinkedIn and Twitter have the broadest scope, it’s often worth signing up to networking sites that cater to specific industries. Since every user starts from a base of common professional interest, it’s easier to identify both relevant vacancies and valuable contacts. Lawyrs.net, for instance, is more or less Facebook for lawyers. It allows users to create an online professional profile displaying everything from education and employment history to legal specialties or interests. Helpful tools include an international firm directory and dedicated discussion groups, and users frequently advertise job opportunities that are unlikely to be visible elsewhere.
Freelancers of all kinds will find plenty to like about Peopleperhour.com. Users bid on work outsourced by employers who award jobs based on profiles displaying key skills and experience, online portfolios and feedback from previous contracts. Creative people can showcase their work on Behance.net.
Xing.com, on the other hand, is a more sophisticated version of LinkedIn. This international networking site dedicated to the business and finance community is cleverly designed to make job hunting easier for its users. The spadework of sifting through job advertisements is done for you as Xing checks every new addition to see if it matches your profile. More established professionals also use the site to identify potential investors and business partners.
It’s not me, it’s you
It’s an old cliché, but presentation really is everything. The best networkers understand that they are selling a product: themselves. Contacts will only be useful if they recognise and remember the qualities that set you apart, and it’s up to the individual to make sure that they do exactly that.
What many fail to realise is that this relies less on blowing one’s own trumpet than it does on encouraging others to blow theirs. Dale Carnegie, who wrote a book on networking, How to Win Friends and Influence People, made millions evangelising the simple art of listening. The secret of getting something you want from someone, he insisted, is to encourage them to talk about themselves and their interests, and being interested in what they have to say.
It’s not rocket science: people are more likely to think positively about someone if they’re seen for what they can give rather than what they’re out to get. Offers of help and a patent desire to learn about a contact’s industry or expertise will usually attract far more attention than a barrage of employment histories and job enquiries.
How to make the most of LinkedIn
Fill in the information
An incomplete profile is like a half-written CV – it looks unprofessional. It’s vital to put as many details on your profile as you can, including work experience, education and skills etc. Recruiters use LinkedIn for candidate searching, using key words. So include plenty of these.
Upload a photo
Adding a photo to your profile is crucial as it puts a face to a name and makes your profile much more memorable. However, choose one in which you look presentable and professional and are smiling.
Adding recommendations to your profile adds credibility. Ask for these from business associates who can vouch for your work (they need to also be LinkedIn members). Giving recommendations yourself is also advisable, in securing a reciprocal recommendation from the recipient.
Get involved in groups and discussions
This is essential for keeping a high profile. This means asking (and answering) questions. You can also link up news articles and other relevant information and you could even moderate a group. If you add value to others, you will be noticed by people in your industry.
Aim to connect with people you deal with regularly, as you never know when these close contacts (or their contacts) will come in handy. You can also add acquaintances and friends.
Post regular updates
By being active on LinkedIn and posting regular updates you will become more visible to other people. You shouldn’t update too regularly though – three times a week is about right. The more people who know about you and your expertise, the better. Then when a work opportunity arises, you may just spring to mind.
People Per Hour