Networking has such an icky feeling to it. You have to socialize with strangers in order to make connections to sell your product or services, or hope they offer you a job if you happen to need one in the future.
The first time I ever profited from my network I was 15 years old. In my home state, that is how old you needed to be to become employed in a W2 job. I went to the local grocery store to apply, but knew that’s not really what I wanted to do during the summer and on weekends. Plus I was up against all the other teenagers applying to the large grocery chain. Then, I remembered my little league coach was a small business owner. I went down to his office in town and got a job on the spot – by using my network (not that I knew that’s what I was doing at the time).
A few years later, while I was at college, I started applying for internships and realized that I was behind some of my classmates. They had already made connections at some of the firms that were hiring for my major and had a leg up on me. I didn’t know that I had to start networking with potential employers as a freshman. No one told me, or I just wasn’t listening. Luckily I got offered an internship, which turned into an offer for full-time employment. At that time I was just happy to have a job without having to network, especially during the Great Recession.
From that point forward, I realized that having a stronger network would enable more job options and would increase my potential move into more interesting positions with increased compensation. LinkedIn surely helps with this, but I started taking those lame networking events more seriously; Trying to meet more and more people and build connections.
After two years of full-time employment, I felt stuck in my job. Many of my peers wanted to leave as well for greener pastures, but didn’t know how. Luckily I had begun to cultivate a network and was able to reach out and find something that I was excited about.
One misconception about networking (and job searching) is that you should do it when you are ready to look for a new job. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. You will never know when your job environment will become hostile or you will become laid off due to merger, acquisition, downsizing, the economy, terrible boss, etc. The seed needs to be planted well in advance. Resumes should be updated before actually wanting another job, even if things are currently going great. I’ve also found getting to know other employers, puts you to the front of the line when they are looking to hire. You get to skip the others who are just submitting their resumes blindly through LinkedIn, Career Builder, etc.
The point is to become anti-fragile in your career so that a bad economy or other circumstances do not derail you. It is also to gives a leg up on compensation to get the job you want and to increase your income. The work must be put in ahead of time to ensure you’re the first name that comes to an employer’s mind when they are thinking of hiring.