The word "networking" often brings to mind images of smarmy cocktail parties and anxiety about the quality of your handshake. But in the book Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World, out earlier this month, business columnist and networking expert J. Kelly Hoey explains how to leverage tools from the online world to make smarter business connections.
Some 70% of all jobs are found through networking, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The problem? It isn't simple. "So many tips about networking make people feel stupid—if networking was so easy, we'd all just do it and stop talking," Hoey said. "Most people want a fast track to an answer, but unfortunately there's no fast way to do these things—only smart ways to use tools to help you enhance your career prospects."
The digital age has changed many elements of the way people connect, but not all of them, Hoey said. "We have more tools at our hands to take control of our job search," Hoey said. "The question is whether or not people use those skills to their fullest, in terms of putting your experience out there and maintaining connections that could provide you with inside leads."
In the book, Hoey outlines a roadmap for success that she uses with her own clients, including Capital One, Dove, and Coca-Cola. Here are six steps to begin your path to creating a strong professional network and landing your ideal job.
1. Determine how others got to your dream job
Tools like LinkedIn help us not only research open jobs, but also see the profiles of people who currently fill similar positions, and their career paths to reach those positions—from the school they attended to the volunteer work they did.
And as many people document their lives and careers over social media, it's easier than ever to gain an understanding of someone's day-to-day job and life, Hoey said.
"If you're prepared to invest time in your career and use these tools to get that background information, invest in relationships, maintain contact with people on social networking sites, and update your own profile on those sites, you have the ability to make connections that might lead to that ideal job or show you your dream career path," Hoey said.
2. Make sure your efforts align with your goal
Step back from thinking, "I should go to this meetup and attend this event," Hoey said. Instead, "take a look at what your goal is, and break it into sub-goals," she advised. "Then ask yourself, 'Am I connecting with the right people or doing the right opportunities to achieve these goals?'"
This may require you to reassess the activities you are currently involved in, from how you spend time online, to the membership organizations you are involved in, to the volunteer work you do.
"A lot of people in networking jump to tactics—join this committee, do this meetup," Hoey said. "You can get advice on how to work a room, but if you don't know why you're in that room, it means you're spending time doing networking activities that aren't producing results because they aren't connected to your ultimate goal."
In some ways, it's like football, Hoey said: A quarterback needs to look to the endzone to know where to throw the ball. But if they don't know where that endzone is, even if they are a great football player, they won't know what direction to go in.
Once you have a goal in mind, "social media tools are the best research tools in terms of learning who the other people are," Hoey said. "In terms of improving interactions, you can find a membership group of interest and search hashtags, see profiles, and read meeting notes. That way you can walk into the room and have some notion of the group dynamic."
3. Filter your network
Filter who, when, and how you ask a contact for career guidance, Hoey said—and be especially careful not to waste the time of a valued contact in the field you want to enter.
For example, an acquaintance recently emailed Hoey asking for her advice on getting a job in a law firm. However, Hoey has not worked in a law firm in more than a decade. "It made me think this person hadn't looked at my resume or profile," Hoey said. A smarter move would have been for the person to find her on LinkedIn, and ask a question more relevant to her specific experience. But since they didn't, they received a "No, good luck," as a response, she said.
"Now their reputation with me is devalued because they haven't done the work," Hoey added.
4. Crowdsource ideas
Your professional network can be an excellent source for ideas when you are considering a career change, Hoey said. "Say 'I'm not sure what to do next—what do you think I do well, and what are my skills that I may look to apply to something else?'" she advised. "Sometimes we reach out to our networks for help, but we should think about reaching out to them for ideas and suggestions about how you can change your career or pursue something new."
In Build Your Dream Network, Hoey includes this advice from designer and entrepreneur Tina Roth Eisenberg: "Sometimes your network sees more in you than you see in yourself."
5. Diversify your connections
Tech workers in particular should make sure their network isn't composed solely of other people in the tech industry, Hoey said. "All of us need to have diverse networks," Hoey said. "We need to assess where we're getting feedback from, and how we're taking a pulse on the world."
Diverse feedback can help spark innovation and navigate challenges, she added. "If you're building products to improve someone's life, make sure that someone who is your target customer is in your network," Hoey said.
How to achieve this? When you approaching new networking relationships, instead of thinking "What's in this for me?" think about, "How can I make connections that are collaborative, and do things in a way that enhances the outcome somebody else is seeking?" Hoey advises.
6. Take your time
Building your ideal network takes time, Hoey said. In tech, where there seem to be so many overnight success stories, it's particularly important to recognize that those are often outliers.
"This deals with human relationships, not just the ease of an email or a swipe," Hoey said. "Those of us in tech need to look behind illusions of speed and ease and realize that you should be thinking about a network that will help you build a company or land a job from the start, not just when you need something."
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Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.