By Kim Thomas
Not everyone is a natural at networking. For some people, it’s a formidable challenge that leaves them running in the opposite direction. But when career networking is done well, it gives you a competitive edge to find leads for jobs, learn insights about an industry, move up in the workplace and achieve your goals.
In my role as a corporate recruiting manager for Robert Half, I see how the most connected people are often the most successful. I also see the value that networking has in my life, professionally and personally. I can contact people I’ve known for years for referrals, resources and tips on best practices. I can lean on them for advice.
I’m also able to call upon my network to help others. As an example, I have a friend who was seeking employment. She saw a job posted at a company where I know some of the recruiting staff. I got in touch with them and provided an informal reference, and my friend got the job.
Something similar happened to me when I was interviewing at Robert Half. The recruiter reached out to a few of our mutual LinkedIn connections to inquire about me. Thankfully, they were very positive and had good things to say!
What is career networking?
There are some misconceptions about career networking. It does not always mean standing in a room full of people handing out business cards and delivering elevator pitches. Networking can happen anywhere — at business lunches, career fairs, community events, wherever. It can be as simple as an exchange over coffee in a café or the break room that leads to a connection. So be ready.
It begins when you strike up that initial conversation. It can be something as simple as, “Hello, my name is Kim Thomas. I work with Robert Half, and I’ve been there about five years. I manage the corporate talent acquisition team.”
That short introduction might then prompt a question from the other person, like, “Oh, do you know so-and-so who works there?” Or a comment such as, “I work in the same city you do.”
One sentence, one conversation, often leads to another, and soon you’ll find that you’ve created valuable links. And there you are. Career networking done right.
Why is networking important to your career?
Career networking can take you in unexpected directions. Years ago, I attended a national conference and started talking to a woman from another company. A couple of weeks later, she called and offered me a position that was a level up for me. I wasn’t even looking for another job, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
The value of networking is not always who you know but who knows you and what you do. It can lead to job references, future hires, mentors, improved soft skills, learning opportunities, increased visibility with higher-ups and career development.
The best networking advice
There are some must-do networking strategies that I always like to share:
- Have a clearly defined purpose. Do you want to find someone who works at a company where you want to work? Do you want to learn about other roles in your own organization? Do you want to find mentors? Do you want to connect with someone who could help you bring top talent to your company?
- Know your key strengths, determine what you want others to know about you and practice your elevator speech.
- Be patient, and don’t expect instant gratification after networking. It’s not about today — but it might be about tomorrow.
- Once you make a connection, be sure to follow up by sending a LinkedIn message, email or text to share your contact information and say it was nice to meet them.
- If you’re looking for a job, keep in mind that networking can lead to referrals and add to your reference pool, both of which are valuable resources.
- When you take someone’s business card, write down on the back why you took it and where you met. This will serve as a handy reference when you follow up with them later.
Networking gold mines to consider
- Meetup — Filter your location and interests at meetup.com to find groups or events at times that fit your schedule. You can also use it to start your own networking group.
- Alumni associations — Even if you don’t live close to the college you attended, you might find a networking group from your alma mater nearby.
- Interest groups — Whether you’re interested in specific disciplines, women’s groups, minority groups, community service or professional associations, you can use Google to find online or in-person opportunities.
Remember, too, that you can network anywhere at any time. I volunteer with a freshman seminar at my son’s high school, which helps students explore career opportunities and plan for the future. Over the years, I’ve made many personal and professional connections and have connected many people to other people and opportunities. All of this is networking.
One last piece of advice: Don’t make networking too heavy or stressful. Don’t overthink it. Just take that first step — then keep reaching out. Doors will open, and your path may lead to a flourishing career and lifelong friendships.
Kim Thomas has been Robert Half’s senior manager of talent acquisition since 2014. She leads the corporate services recruitment team, helping to attract top talent to join the company.
Kim studied human resources at Golden Gate University. She was recognized as Citizen of the Year in 2017 by the City of Dublin, Calif., for her volunteer work in schools and efforts to help the less fortunate in her community. She is a board member for the Bay Area African American Employee Network Organization and, in her spare time, enjoys shopping, volunteering, and having fun with family and friends.