8 minutes read
YOUR JOB SEARCH: Putting a Networking Plan Together

YOUR JOB SEARCH: Putting a Networking Plan Together

By James Van, Director of Career Services and Professional Development at SoloLearn

Author's note: Please adjust your networking strategy to accommodate COVID safety guidelines as necessary.

During the networking phase of your job search, part of your time will be spent in front of a computer, and the remainder will be spent talking to people. Both parts are important in order to navigate a successful job search.

Your Online Networking Strategy

Your computer is a great research tool. Use it to find events and other opportunities to network in person. Websites such as Eventbrite and Meetup are excellent sources to mine for relevant events, searchable by topic or agenda. Be sure to mix up the kinds of events you attend, and don’t limit yourself to events whose sole purpose is to network with others. 

While networking events can be useful, beware of events that attract a lot of other job seekers that are essentially all looking for the same thing as you are — their next job! Relevant events can include:

Learning Events

These are events where the primary focus is to learn something new, or hone skills. If you are seeking a job as a full stack software engineer, you might search for a group that focuses on implementing relevant technologies, or learning the latest languages.

Social Events

Attend events that you might not normally seek. For example, if you enjoy ballroom dancing, or indoor climbing, seek out groups that organize local ballroom dancing or climbing events. Especially if you live in an area where there is a higher concentration of tech companies, you are likely to meet people in those groups that work at tech companies or know someone that does.

Affinity Groups

Join groups that uplift those who identify with their community. For example, there are several local and national groups whose mission is to help uplift women in technology. Often affinity groups will collect copious resources and will organize network events as an avenue to help its membership enter into the field or into specific companies.

Putting a Networking Plan Together

Set Networking Goals For Yourself

By definition, networking is your ability to forge relationships with other professionals. Rather than focus solely on job leads, seek out connections to other people, mentors, and resources/information. Having multiple avenues for “wins” takes some of the pressure off of each of your conversations, and the broad spectrum of information you will learn will enrich your job search. 

LinkedIn will likely be the hub of your online professional networking efforts. The larger your Linkedin network of 1st degree connections, the larger your reach and ability to find 2nd and 3rd degree connections. Reaching your 2nd and 3rd degree connections and converting them to 1st degree connections and professional friendships is your main goal. Your 1st degree connections will play a vital role in your efforts to access those important 2nd and 3rd degree connections. 

How many 1st degree connections should you have? How well should you know a person before connecting with them on Linkedin? The answers to these questions are likely influenced by your own personal philosophies on social networking and online privacy. There are some who prefer to be more of an open networker, accepting most connection requests received — excepting only those that are not relevant to their profiles or interests. Others prefer to be more selective with their connections, accepting only those from individuals they have met. In either case, it is advantageous to also seek out connections with people in the same profession or industry, and those with similar or complementary interests.

In setting LinkedIn networking goals, state your objective and work backwards. Your goal is to get interviews. In my experience, career switchers typically secure one job offer for every five to six interviews. Multiple job opportunities is the best scenario, as you can then negotiate your offers with more confidence, and have a choice between companies. For the average job seeker, this means securing around 15 interviews. You might become better at converting your interviews to offers over time, but we will assume you need to obtain 15 interviews for now. 

Typical cold email response rate on Linkedin is around 15-20%, if it has a good message and message title. Your job networking efforts will gain critical mass once you have talked to about 12 new people or so, which means you should plan to send around 60-75 cold messages on Linkedin. 

Use something like this tracker to document and track your networking progress. Routines are important in networking and job searching —set weekly realistic targets and schedule your daily work/tasks. Doing daily work is important so that it does not feel overwhelming or monotonous. Initially, it will likely be difficult to keep up momentum, but you should begin to see the results of your hard work after a few days, which will help build your energy for your daily tasks. 

As you get into weeks two and three of your networking work, your focus should begin to shift more toward conversations and informational interviews with people, and less on prospecting new contacts. Use your tracker to document your conversations. Use Google Docs to take notes from each conversation, and link the doc to the appropriate person in your tracker. This will help you document your learnings and contacts. 

Doing regular informational interviews will be a tremendous boost to your insights about industries, companies, and your target roles. It is also a great way to network and have meaningful conversations.

The In-Person Work

It is important during the networking phase of the job search to put yourself into situations where you are likely to learn and meet new people that are interesting and relevant to your new career direction. You can target learning events, networking events, and social events. Make sure to not limit in-person events to those that are likely to only attract people in your target role. For example, if your next job search is focused on full stack software developer roles, you will of course target events focused on the latest languages and relevant technologies. But you might also target general technology or startup events as well. You may run into marketing and sales professionals, business analysts, and many others — which is great! 

It is not only good to meet a variety of different people, but you also never know which company they work for, who they know, or what their experience is. There is value in every conversation and it is up to you to find it! If you enjoy dancing, go to dance classes, groups, or meetups. If you enjoy climbing, go to your local climbing gym. Going to meetups and groups that focus on an interest gives you an instant reason to talk to people about what you both enjoy doing. Those connections can often be the most authentic ones. 

Here are a few tips that will help when attending your next in-person event or networking event:

Do Homework Before Each Event

If you sign up for a networking event, often you can find out in advance information about who is attending the event, who runs the event, and if any companies are attending or sponsoring the event. 

When using Meetup and Eventbrite, you can often identify the members within the group. If signups are open, organizers will sometimes enable the feature that allows others to see who is signed up to attend. Do a little research on who is attending so that you can prepare for those conversations. If companies are attending, be sure to know who they are, what they do, and if they are hiring. If appropriate, you can also reach out to other attendees, and let them know you are looking forward to the event. 

Set Goals For Yourself

Going into the event, set networking goals for yourself. For example, set a goal that you will start conversations with 10 people that you have never met before. This will keep you motivated to get inside and start talking to people.

Be Approachable, And Do The Approaching

Approaching people you don’t know for the first time can be intimidating. Chances are, if the other person is there at the event, they are also looking to meet people. Smile, be courteous, professional, and personable. 

Use The Buddy System

It can be helpful to sign up for events with a friend. Not only will that friend ensure that you will actually attend the event, it can feel comforting to not walk into an event alone. Your buddy can also be a rendezvous person to come back to a couple of times during the event as long as you don’t spend the entire event hanging out with your friend!

Have A Few “Go To” Conversation Starters

Tried and true conversation starters are effective in engaging new connections in conversation. These starters are typically questions such as, “Hi, my name is James, nice to meet you — what brings you here?”, or “What did you think of the speaker tonight?” Walk into each event with some of your own conversation starters, so you feel prepared to start a conversation with anyone in the room. 

Be A Good Listener

Networking is all about learning about the other person. Listen to them more than talk about yourself. Not only can it be discouraging for the other person if you talk about yourself too much, learning about the other person meaningfully develops the relationship. Ask good questions, and listen. Eventually, your new connection will return the volley and ask you questions, which is your opportunity to tell them about yourself. If you find yourself talking more than the other person, dial it back, and ask the other person more questions. 

FORD Smalltalk

Having the FORD framework is helpful in framing common topics of conversations. FORD is an acronym for

  • F: Family: Do you have kids, or who are those that you love and care about
  • O: Occupation: What do you do for a living?
  • R: Recreation: What do you do for fun?
  • D: Dreams: What do you aspire to do?

Add Value

Look for opportunities to add value to your new connections. Can you suggest a good resource/book? Can you connect that person to someone in your network? Do you have expertise that may help that person achieve something? Can you help that person on a side project? Each conversation presents an opportunity to help the other person. Offering to help will accelerate a professional relationship with that person. 

Ending the Conversation

Especially at a networking event, it is okay to end the conversation and move on to meet someone new. It is likely the other person wants to meet more people as well. If the conversation went well, ask if you can continue the conversation over coffee (or in some other way), and ask what is the best way to reach out to set that up. The other person will respond by giving you their preferred contact method. If you are not already connected on LinkedIn, this could be an opportunity to ask to connect there, in addition to email or phone. 

Take Notes

Especially if you meet multiple people, it will be important to take notes on each of your conversations, so that you remember important facts about the other person that you can recall later. There are several great note taking apps you can use on your phone that will allow you to recall them later. 

Follow Up

Be certain to follow up within 24 hours with each of your new connections. They likely talked to several people as well, so use your notes to help them recall the conversation the two of you had. “I enjoyed our conversation about dogs, how interesting is it that we both have German Shepherds!” You’ve already asked to set up your next conversation when ending your chat at the networking event, so your follow up is focused on setting up that next conversation.

Get started on your networking strategy, and good luck!

In his over 20 year career, James Van has helped thousands find their next job. James began his career as a technical recruiter in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. After nine years of recruiting, James completed his Masters in Counselor Education at San Jose State University and transitioned into career counseling and coaching. James has supported the career growth of his students at institutions such as UC Berkeley, Hult International Business School, and Galvanize. He recently joined SoloLearn , a self-paced earn-to-code platform providing excellent technical instruction. In his personal hours, James enjoys spending his time with his family, windsurfing, surfing, and cycling.