By Miriam Salpeter
You've probably heard a million times that networking is the way to land a job. But what if you don't have a strong network already? All is not lost—you can start now to build one. Debra Feldman, known as the "JobWhiz," is a professional networking expert and executive job search agent. Follow her suggestions to build a network that will help you land your next opportunity:
1. Develop a short list of target employers. It's always easier to begin by identifying just a few organizations and then taking steps to find people who are affiliated with those places. How can you pick the right companies? Make a list of your most important qualities in a workplace. Factor in everything from the company's location to its reputation. Use data from sources such as Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, WetFeet, Vault, and Hoovers.com to evaluate the organizations. Narrow down your list to no more than five companies to start; don't worry if these organizations have job openings posted or not.
2. Refine your list by identifying if you know anyone who works in these organizations. Move forward with a combination of online and in-person strategies. If you haven't already built a LinkedIn network, create a profile and then begin to search for people who work in the companies that you've selected. Use the "Advanced" search tab on LinkedIn's toolbar to narrow down people who are connected to your top organizations. Remember, even people who don't currently work at the company may still be able to help.
Leverage the people you know best. Use Facebook! Post a message asking your friends if anyone knows someone who works at one of your target companies. Consider signing up for BeKnown or BranchOut, two applications that could help you create a professional network among your Facebook friends. Tap into Glassdoor.com's new tool, Inside Connections, to leverage your Facebook friend network and uncover whom you might know at various companies.
Don't forget to ask people you see at family, social, community, and business events or parties about the companies that interest you, and request introductions to people who work there. (Do not make every discussion entirely about your job hunt; try to be subtle and introduce the topic in the course of conversation.)
3. Set up informational meetings (also known as informational interviews). When you approach people, emphasize that you're interested in learning more about them and their businesses, and explain that you do not expect a job as a result. Ask people about their backgrounds, inquire about problems they face at work, and try to learn what kind of people succeed at their organizations. Feldman suggests, "Factor their advice into your research findings. Refine your target list of organizations. This is a critical step—success hinges on targeting the right employers that match your requirements and where you can also meet their needs." And don't forget to always ask for another contact, so you will be able to continue your networking meetings.
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Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.