Authentic Networking

With the unemployment rate the highest it’s been in 25 years–9.4% in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics–those who still have jobs are concerned about their future and those out of work are frustrated with the job search. As many are reviewing their skill set and credentials, there’s one very important question that every professional–working or unemployed–needs to assess: How strong is my network?

If you’re planning on a change in employment status, voluntarily or otherwise, the odds are heavily stacked in favor of relying on the people you know, especially since roughly 80% of employment occurs through networking.

It’s great that you have a stack of business cards, but how well do those influential individuals even remember who you are, and more importantly, know how well you perform?

Because effective networking is based on mutually beneficial relationships, developing a solid base of contacts does take time. But it is well worth the effort invested. Experts provide several strategies on how you can build and maximize your best opportunity for finding work:

Be open, but have a goal

In today’s environment, you don’t want to close any doors on where you can meet influential professionals, but it’s wise to choose environments that work with your personality and style. After-work mixers can put you in touch with a variety of people. Having an idea of who you’d like to meet as well as background information on them and their business will help you focus as well as facilitate an introduction. Speaking at conferences and becoming active in professional organizations will provide others with an opportunity to actually see and hear how you perform. Those activities will engage others and draw professionals to you.

Have an elevator pitch

You should be able to convey who you are and why you would be a good contact for someone else. Remember, the first rule of networking is not what you can get, but what you can offer. In discussing your background, people will want to know what you do and for whom you have done it. Your presentation should also be concise, easy to understand, and not sound like a sales pitch. “People who come across as inauthentic have a style that says, ‘it’s all about me,’” says Trudy Bourgeois, founder and president of The Center for Workforce Excellence. “Let your style send the signal that you have something of value to offer to others and that you are willing to help others.”