Your next job will probably come either from your friends or from their friends, so networking--building personal relationships--is vitally important.
Where to start
List all your personal friends and business associates. By letter first, then by telephone later, explain your situation, describe your career direction, and ask for advice and ideas.
Reestablish old friendships in follow-up phone calls. Ask about your friend's work and family; get caught up on recent events. Wait until your listener asks about you, then explain your situation in positive terms, even if it's hard to find positives. Ask for suggestions, and specifically ask, "Who else should I be talking to?"
If you find networking hard because you don't want to use your friends, or because you dislike asking for help, overcome this by genuinely caring about those you call. Your interest will delight them, and they'll gladly share information. Remember, you'd willingly help them if they came to you needing similar support.
Force yourself to use the telephone; it gets easier as you call. Look for information about industry trends or trends in your functional area or specialty. Watch for plans for new products or services. Seek out emerging markets, hidden jobs, and companies that are hiring. Listen for upcoming retirements and insider tips about corporate culture or political infighting. Pay attention to news of reorganizations, expansions, mergers or acquisitions. Ask about business associations, publications, or resources. Focus on anything change-related, because change means opportunity.
How to structure a meeting
Your telephone calls will soon produce face-to-face meetings. In the beginning, be friendly and establish rapport. Set the stage by asking how much time you'll have. State your purpose clearly and directly. Share your excitement and enthusiasm, and ask for advice and ideas. In general, listen more than you talk. Watch for opportunities, and take brief notes. Ask for referrals to other experts. Before you leave, ask for a business card, discuss a next step, and offer heartfelt thanks.
How to recognize opportunities
Don't look only for specific openings where someone else held the job before. Watch closely for: Problems you would enjoy solving. Weaknesses in a company where you could help. Example: becoming an in-house attorney where there was none before. Work groups where you like them and they like you. In employment this is called "good chemistry" or "good fit." Companies where people are complaining, troubled, or under pressure. This often indicates too few people to do the work at hand: a need for hiring. Anywhere you see something missing that you could add, a logical extension or improvement. Example: pizza delivery for a pizza restaurant.
Listen 80% and talk 20%. Personal meetings should be interactive, like tennis; but in general, others would rather talk than listen. Therefore, give them your full attention. Listening builds trust and says, "I care about you." If you're having trouble getting hired, try listening 50% more.
Yet there is a time to talk about yourself. Sooner or later, your host will say, "Tell me about yourself," "Why are you here?" or "How can I help you?" When that happens, take twenty seconds--not twenty minutes--to answer.
Walk in prepared
Know what you want. Never enter a meeting without knowing why you're there. You'll waste your time, waste your contact's time, and look unprofessional. Show up unprepared too often and word will get around that you lack focus. No one will want to talk to you.
Key questions to ask
One goal of networking is to get referrals, but how do you ask for names? You can be too direct and put others off. You can be too vague, and come away empty handed. So what do you say?
In general, it's better to be subtle and indirect rather than blunt. "Can you give me the names of your friends?" might put your host on the defensive; the answer may be no. "Who else should I be talking to?" is far less threatening and will elicit the names of friends and key contacts anyway.
If you're wondering what else to ask in a networking session, try these on for size: How does my resume look? What would you change or modify? Are my letters crystal clear? Do you have any advice or ideas for me? Who else should I be talking to? Are there any groups or organizations I should attend? Are there any books or publications I should read? What would you do if you were me? Who would you be talking to?
How to end
When appropriate, establish a next step: a phone call, follow-up meeting, something to be mailed. If you end with no next step, you miss the chance to involve this person in your campaign--possibly a big mistake.
Tell people you value their suggestions and plan to take action on them. Say, for example, "I'll call the people you recommended and read the articles you suggested. Then I'll check back in a week or so to let you know what happened."
This approach lets the person know you take them seriously. It cements the relationship. In addition, it makes this person a more permanent part of your network, not just a passing face. If you handle it right, you can call later for further help.
Don't make the mistake of contacting people only once. Your search will never build momentum. As you meet technical experts and business leaders, become a friend to them, and they'll likely return the friendship.
Your contact network should always be growing, not shrinking. The best way to expand it is to seek out new people and build relationships. It doesn't really matter who you choose, so long as you like them, they like you, and you can help each other.
As you launch your job campaign, remember these basics:
I once met a highly successful job hunter with a secret. He said, "I create relationships. The relationships create the jobs." He was absolutely right; that's exactly how it works.