If you're sick of hearing that networking is the best way to find a new job, it might be because you aren't doing it right. Here, a couple of experts weigh in on some dos and don'ts for building an effective network of contacts.
Don't expect it to happen overnight. Philadelphia-based LinkedIn expert Donna Serdula says, "Dig your well before you're thirsty. You always need to be connecting." If you wait until you need a favor, it's probably going to be obvious - and a big turn off - to the people you're trying to get to know.
Do create two-way relationships. Networking is a long game, and the real key to building a meaningful network of contacts lies in having authentic interactions. Serdula says, "There's no real secret to networking - it's about helping people, inspiring people, and educating people. Then when you finally need help, people will be there for you because you've always been there for them."
Don't get sloppy. As you grow your network, you shouldn't expect to remember everything. Whether you use an old-fashioned rolodex or an electronic contact management system, keep brief but well-organized notes about where you've met individuals, conversations you've had, and things you have in common.
Do reach out to the people who you come in contact with naturally. In addition to the people you meet in your business world - clients, vendors, coworkers - everyone else you meet has the potential to be a valuable contact. Don't discount the barrista, mail carrier, or dry cleaner just because they don't work in your field - they might know your future boss.
Don't be shy. If you're only networking with people you already know, you aren't really networking. Make it a point to get face-to-face with new connections. Kristen Irey, J.D., Assistant Professor and Program Manager of Human Resource Management at Peirce College, advises potential job seekers to join professional organizations in their field or look for opportunities to volunteer. She also recommends job seekers "Look for mentors and sponsors who can introduce you to quality contacts that can lead to your next opportunity."
Do be prepared. You'll want to have a resume that you're ready to share. Of course, Irey points out it isn't always convenient to have copies of your resume with you at all times, but "You can create and use networking cards. These are business cards that advertise you as a professional and highlight some of your skills and accomplishments. They create great introductions and offer quick professional networking opportunities,"
Don't just go in for the kill. While one of the best things about LinkedIn is the ability to see who else the people in your network know, too many job seekers seem to forget the basic rules of interaction. If there's someone you'd like to get in touch with, look for shared connections or groups before sending an introductory message. "Online etiquette echoes real world etiquette," says Serdula. "You wouldn't just walk up to someone and say, 'Give me a job.' You would try to find commonalities and reach out to them to say, 'I'm really interested in your business - can I ask you a few questions?'"
Do follow up. Even if you didn't find out anything new or get what you were hoping for in a conversation, remember to thank everyone you contact. An immediate thank you note is a must, but following up a few weeks later to tell someone how much their insight and time meant to you is a great way to continue the relationship.