There is absolutely no doubt that networking is an effective route to securing a job, which is why those who suddenly find themselves on the market are often inclined to jump straight to it. Sadly, they often end up disappointed when their efforts don't result in a new job right away.
While networking when you need a job is certainly worthwhile, you really need to nurture your network even when you're not actively looking. That's how you land your next great job.
With that in mind, here are some tips on how to build, nurture, and give back to your network in order to reap the benefits later:
Work on Your Network Before You Need It
A lot of people assume that when you're looking for a job is when you need to build a network. In reality, you need to have a network built before you're on the hunt. You can do that through traditional methods like going to organized networking events, joining professional organizations, and attending alumni events, as well as through nontraditional methods like volunteering in your community. You can also ask people you work with or with whom you have a professional relationship to make introductions for you. At the start, it's all about meeting people and creating relationships.
The important thing to keep in mind at this stage is to always be on the lookout for opportunities to connect, even when you're not at work-related functions or traditional networking events. If you're making small talk with someone and learn something about them that interests you in a professional capacity, ask them about it. Then, assuming that they seem receptive, suggest further conversation or ask to get coffee. Show them that you're interested and want to learn more. Once you've made a couple connections, then you can funnel them into your network.
Cultivate Your Networking Relationships
Networking is a two-way street. You don't want to build relationships with self-serving people, nor do you want to be the person in the relationship who takes and takes but never gives back. A great professional relationship is one in which both parties feel like they are benefiting.
One easy way to nurture existing relationships is to habitually check up on them. If you know someone who was looking for a job six months ago, connect with them to see where they are and if there is anything you can do to help.
In cases where you struggle to find a way to give back to a connection, try sending them professional event information to see if they would like to attend. The important part is to ask them to come with you; the event can benefit them, but it also gives you a chance to see them face to face and reconnect if you haven't spoken in a while. Passing along interesting articles related to their area of work is also a good idea, but make sure you pick something that they probably have not (and will not) see. Don't pass along popular publications that they're likely to read on their own.
One of the main reasons it's difficult to network when you're actively searching for work is because it's hard to appear genuine. Many people may think you're just using them to secure a job. When you grow your network early and give back to your connections, on the other hand, people will know they can trust you, and they'll be more eager to help you out when you need it.
Start building mutually beneficial relationships way before you need them. Then, when you find yourself looking for a new job, you'll have a network that gets results.
Meghann Isgan is an HR consultant working at One Click.