Getting a job in 2020 is a daunting task. But despite the unknowns of the economy and pandemic and the impersonal nature of a fully virtual job search, there is still one, timeless strategy I recommend to job seekers: networking.
For expertise on this important topic, I interviewed Catherine Hall, a professional recruiter who’s been on both sides of the interviewing table. She’s a master networker and coaches job seekers to network professionally and effectively.
In fact, Catherine and I met on a professional networking call. Near the end, the host suggested that everyone share their LinkedIn profile links. Catherine connected with me and added a personal note. We started chatting, and I so enjoyed our conversation that I asked her if she’d be willing to be a guest on my podcast.
Catherine’s and my relationship is a real-life example of the power of stress-free, authentic and mutually beneficial networking. So, with that in mind, here are Catherine’s top five insider tips for stress-free networking and interviewing:
1. Have the Right Attitude
Catherine always starts her coaching sessions with an attitude check. You have to have your attitude in order because it will come through in every single conversation you have while networking or interviewing. Catherine recommends an attitude, particularly in these challenging times, that says, “I am the victor. I am not a victim.”
I know a lot of people have graduated into a bad economy or been laid off from a long-term position. Take time to grieve your loss. But be careful of wallowing in a “Why me?” mentality. Get back on LinkedIn, connect with new people and take action to build and engage with your network every day.
2. Use LinkedIn Regularly
Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you’re someone who will give more than you take from their companies. A great way to do this is to be active on LinkedIn. Start by using the platform every single day. Have fun with it! Connect with people with similar interests. Comment on people’s statuses. Congratulate promotions and post blogs on topics in your industry.
Most importantly, according to Catherine, join groups. There are hundreds of thousands of groups on LinkedIn. You can join a college alumni group. You can join a marketing group. You can join groups based on your location. In these groups, people are going to be posting articles, interview tips and job opportunities. Position yourself as a group contributor with insightful and encouraging things to say. Who wouldn’t want someone like that on their team?
3. Connect Easily and Organically
Next, you need to reach out and start conversations with people who can help lead you to the job you want.
Catherine says that she got her first corporate job by asking managers and industry leaders in her network, “How are you so successful? Tell me about your company.” At the time, she didn’t even know the term networking. But she soon realized this strategy — formally known as informational interviewing — worked and she used it to get her second and third jobs, too.
Now with years of recruiting and coaching experience under her belt, Catherine says that the best impressions come from people who are humble and specific about what they want. She likes people who don’t think that they deserve everything yet show they’re hungry for the job.
Most people feel stressed by one-on-one networking conversations because they feel pressured to “make a sale” and get a job. Remember that you’re not trying to sell anything. Your only goal should be to establish a genuine, mutually beneficial connection with another person. Be humble and specific about what you want, but also ask how you can help the other person with their goals.
4. Follow Up Genuinely
Connecting with someone over a shared love of cats or IT systems won’t necessarily land you a job. Both parties need a genuine, natural desire to take the conversation to another level.
This means taking action, following up and keeping in touch. When you’re the job seeker, the responsibility is on you to keep the conversation going.
If you’re able to connect with a recruiter, hiring manager or executive and the conversation turns to a possible opportunity, ask them if it’s okay if you follow up in a few days. Ask their preferred communication method.
For other more casual conversations, read the room and follow up appropriately. You could find an interesting article and send it with a note that says, “Hey, I saw this article and thought about you and your company.”
You could also regularly follow the person on LinkedIn (make you sure are connected or click the “follow” button on their profile), and if you see your connection publish an article or share a post, you could send them a message telling them how much you appreciated their perspective.
Another way to keep the conversation going is to refer other strong talent for positions that aren’t a fit for you. If you have a colleague who would be a good candidate in a contact’s organization, make that connection even if it doesn’t directly benefit you.
Many job hunters overthink the follow-up. They either stress about the how and when of the follow-up when they could just ask the recruiter’s preferences, or they come across as pushy or disingenuous. Be yourself and don’t rush the networking process.
5. Interview the Interviewer
When it comes to formal interviews, remember that you have agency in the job-hunting process. The recruiter doesn’t hold all the power in this relationship. It’s your responsibility to interview the company, too. If you notice red flags either in an interview or in a LinkedIn message conversation, know that you are allowed to decline any future communication.
Catherine says this mindset is especially important for people of color. She’s worked for racist contractors before and encourages job applicants to stay vigilant. If you feel a certain tone in a conversation and can tell that you’re not going to be comfortable working for that person, then you can certainly turn down the opportunity.
There will be other opportunities out there to work for more open and accepting organizations. Be confident in your skills. Be clear on your goals. Be professional, keep pushing and be hungry.
With a little coaching and practice, networking can become stress-free and enjoyable. But if you do feel stressed, remember to start by accomplishing something small. You don’t need to use all of these strategies today, just take a small step. With every action you’ll be one step closer to building your network and getting a great new job.
Need an idea for that next networking step? Join my newsletter. Every month, I send out tips and resources for all stages of your career.