How To Network for a Job, Step-by-Step

How To Network for a Job, Step-by-Step

We often hear that it’s not what you know but who you know when finding a job. That expression is a fair description of the success of networking.

In fact, 70% of jobs are never officially advertised, and a 2016 survey indicated that 70% of people hired had a connection at the company where they found a job. Having someone who can put in a good word for you at a potential position can open doors. With good networking, you can connect with people working at your dream company or those who can give you the career advice you need to excel.

This article explores what you need to know about networking and how to use it effectively.

What is networking?

Job networking refers to building relationships and making connections based on your career and professional interests. You might exchange ideas, gather information, and build a community based on your professional skills and career direction.

The main purpose of networking lies in building relationships. Developing a career network comes with several professional benefits, including help in your job search. In fact, as many as 80% of job seekers say their network has helped them find job leads and job openings.

A network consists of professional and personal contacts you’ve worked and interacted with in various capacities over the years. Use your network to learn about potential job opportunities, find ways to build your resume, and even secure references when you find a job you want.

We dive further into how you can build your network so you can use it to grow professionally.

How to network

To network effectively, you need to nurture skills that will help you build relationships and connect with others. Keeping these skills and strategies in mind can help you find opportunities to build your network, form better connections, and see greater results from your efforts to create a strong professional community.

Utilize these 10 key strategies to improve your professional networking.

Make a list of people in your network

Before getting started with your networking efforts, think about who comprises your network. You likely have relationships with more people you can include than you realize. For example:

  • Friends
  • Old classmates
  • Current and former coworkers and colleagues
  • Neighbors
  • People you met at internships or mentorship programs
  • Those with whom you connected at conferences and other events
  • Neighbors you interact with regularly

Even if many of these people don’t work in your industry, they can still provide networking value. They might know people who work in your industry and can serve as a reference point if you want to connect with these other people.

They might also have career advice that comes from their own extensive work background that can help guide you on your career path. They might have ideas about particular skill sets you should nurture or where to find opportunities for continuing education.

As you make this list, you might remember old acquaintances who work in an industry related to your targeted sector. You might also discover that a college roommate works as a recruiter for a particular industry or as a hiring manager at a business you’d like to learn more about. If you haven’t spoken with them recently, reconnect as a launching point for a networking relationship.

Don’t be afraid to personally reach out to others as you nurture your professional network. Reconnect with some of the people on your list and steer the conversation in a more professional direction.

Focus on building relationships

As you embark on building your network, focus first on relationships and second on your professional ambitions. Look for opportunities to get face-to-face with people. Schedule lunches or connect after work when possible. If the person lives far away, connect online.

Look for ways to contribute value to the relationship before making any professional pitch about your interest in rising within your field. This might include sharing your own expertise and insight.

Ask questions when meeting and show genuine interest in what they have to say. If you meet the CEO of a company you’d love to work for and discover that they love hiking, fully engage on the topic and establish a genuine connection.

The relationships you form through networking lay the groundwork that can lead to potential opportunities. Exchange business cards and digital contact information as you wrap up meetings. Always remember that effective networking comes from laying a firm foundation of connection.

Actively collect contact information

Don’t overlook opportunities to collect contact information when interacting with other professionals. You might come up with some type of lead-in that lets your new connection know you’d like to continue to build the relationship.

For example, you might indicate that you want to connect on LinkedIn and stay in touch. If you discussed a particular topic, you might say that you want to send them an interesting related article you’ve read.

The key lies in finding ways to nurture the relationship and take them from a person with whom you had a single conversation to a member of your network. Always carry business cards and freely exchange them so you never miss an opportunity to make a valuable connection. You’ll also want to establish and maintain a digital business directory on your phone.

Get to know your industry

Take time to prepare before engaging in networking. You want to keep the conversation going when speaking with people. You need to have enough background and experience with the topic at hand so you can demonstrate your understanding and insight.

If you’d like to network with people in a particular industry, make sure you understand the latest developments in the sector. Become familiar with rising competitors and industry trends. You don’t want to appear to just be an observer of the industry—instead, you want to be seen as someone who genuinely understands what’s going on.

Take time to regularly brush up on the latest developments. If you’re attending a networking event, for example, prepare by reviewing the latest information before you arrive so you can keep your knowledge relevant as you engage in conversation.

Focus on body language and confidence

Approaching someone in a professional manner can take a lot of courage. Given the importance of networking, however, go a step farther and take time to practice what you want to say. Remember that communication effectiveness comes from not only your words, but also your facial expression and tone of voice. Review common body language cues to help you come across favorably.

  • Maintain good eye contact. Turn your shoulders so you’re completely facing the person and look at the person’s eyes (not focusing too intently). You can also look at a focal point near their eyes.
  • Be aware of your facial expression. Try to maintain an expression of serious interest and friendly demeanor, rather than a frown or too-large smile. Practice in the mirror to know what others see.
  • Use well-placed gestures. People respond well to gestures when used correctly. In other words, you don’t want to come across as though you never stop moving, but you do want to recognize the importance of body movements when appearing engaged and interesting to others. In fact, well-chosen gestures can increase the perceived value of what someone says by 60%.
  • Stand up straight so you appear more confident.
  • Don’t mumble when you speak so people can clearly understand you without having to ask you to repeat yourself.

Give back to your network

Giving back is an important part of any relationship. You don’t want to look at your network as just an opportunity to gain something for yourself. Instead, see it as a give-and-take relationship. In other words, look for opportunities to offer value to your connections.

This might come in a variety of formats. It might be as simple as asking your connections if you can do anything for them. You can even offer favors (like serving as a reference or an authority for an article a connection is putting together).

The key is making sure you don’t become the type of connection that appears as soon as you need something and then disappears once that need is filled. If people hear from you only when you need a reference or a lead on a new job but they don’t hear back when asking for their own favors, they’ll likely become less helpful in the future.

Follow up

Once you make connections, follow up with them, remembering to focus first on the relationship. Don’t reach out to them immediately after a successful conversation to ask for a job.

Some strategies for staying in contact include:

  • If they recommend you speak to any particular contacts, reach out to them after you connect and let them know how it went.
  • Share articles that might interest them. If you see a news article that aligns well with a topic you discussed, forward it to them.
  • Keep the conversation going. If you discussed a particular hobby or trend within your industry when you met, for example, continue the conversation online through messaging or email. You might let them know about a recent hike you took or report on another interesting conversation you had concerning important industry trends.
  • Provide a simple follow-up after the event to thank them for the great conversation and the chance to connect. You can then ask them about their thoughts on the rest of the event.

Take full advantage of social media

Social media also offers great networking opportunities. For example, more than a third of people report that a casual conversation on LinkedIn Messaging has resulted in a new opportunity for them professionally.

Building out your LinkedIn profile and letting people know you’re job hunting can help you gain better insight into the job market. You might also find potential referrals among your contacts.

Popular social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook make it easy to connect with others who can help you build your network. You can join groups for people in your industry who have similar hobbies, went to your college, or want to network in your city.

As you join these online groups, you can connect with others interested in exchanging ideas and information, discuss news, and collect contact information.

Join professional associations

Professional associations can offer ample opportunities. One of the first places to start is with your college or university. Look into their alumni network or career center to see how you can connect with others who have attended the school. If you were admitted into any honors societies while you studied, you could also look for groups based around these particular organizations.

Other places to look for professional organizations include your city’s chamber of commerce and professional organizations within your industry. These associations often have networking events and opportunities to continue learning and remain engaged within your sector.

Look for networking events

Seize any opportunities to network with other professionals in a structured environment. Research indicates that networking events with a bit of structure, such as organized introductions, help make the entire endeavor more successful. People come away from these events with more contacts and stronger contacts than they do in a traditional networking environment.

People at networking events commonly gravitate toward those they already know. Providing structure helps break through this.

Online vs. in-person events

Take time to engage with people at industry and networking events. A large number of events transitioned to an online format during the pandemic. Now, many events offer in-person or hybrid options for attendees.

If you’re unsure which type of event to attend, we provide some benefits and drawbacks of in-person and online networking opportunities.

Online events

Online opportunities offer several distinct advantages. One of the most obvious is the potential to attend more events. In 2021, at the height of the pandemic, over 70% of scientists reported attending more meetings than ever before.

This increased attendance was largely driven by a lack of travel. No traveling equates to a smaller carbon footprint, greater convenience, and better affordability. People can even attend multiple events within a single weekend, which might not be possible when meeting in person.

With online networking, you also don’t face limitations placed by geography. You can build a network with professionals from around the globe without having to become a jet-setting networker.

On the other hand, online networking can make it harder to build genuine connections. There are fewer opportunities to read each other’s body language, and it can feel harder to make small talk over a screen than at a restaurant or similar social situation.

In-person events

Around 95% of people believe face-to-face meetings are key to building strong business relationships. Some people also find it easier to engage directly with connections in person because they have an environment that encourages small talk.

This conversation lays the foundation for better relationships and bonds. The chance to interact in person also allows for the observation of body language and a better opportunity to understand the other person’s personality and level of interest in what you say.

On the other hand, regularly attending in-person networking events does take significantly more time and resources. Many people also find networking events to be a little nerve-wracking, as they may have to walk up to strangers and start conversations.

Start networking for a job today

Networking can take on several forms, but the ultimate goal is to form connections that can help you succeed in whatever career you choose. This may require you to develop several skills that allow you to build relationships and connect with others.

Are you ready to start networking? Whether you’re an independent professional or a client interested in investing in talent to build your business, there’s a place for you on Upwork.

Connect with other clients for information about working effectively with independent professionals. Similarly, freelancers can engage with other freelancers to learn more about growing their businesses. Explore the Upwork Community to get answers to questions about the platform and get support when needed.

If you want to build a team for your project, explore the benefits of working with independent talent. These professionals specialize in the type of work you need to be completed, lending their expertise for business success. Upwork also makes it easy to find jobs and opportunities as an independent professional. Explore available jobs today.


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How To Network for a Job, Step-by-Step
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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