In networking, it’s not about who you know…but who knows you.
Think about it…if you know 10 people in your inner circle and each of those people know 50 people, then your network is actually 500 strong. Now, if you tell the 10 people exactly what type of job or employment opportunity you are seeking, then they are well prepared to mention you in any conversations that they have in their respective networks. Thus at any given point in time there are actually 500 potential conversations that may invariably lead to someone referring you for possible employment.
In order to maximize the likelihood that someone in your network can effectively “sell” you, it is your responsibility to convey to them the type of industries you are pursuing, the firms/organizations in each industry you are interested in, AND the type of informal culture that you would like to work in. By educating the people in your network to the type of employment you are seeking, they are in a better position to sell you to their contacts.
You should have a job search pipeline spreadsheet that you use to keep track of all your contacts. For everyone you meet, capture their contact information, who referred you to them, the status of your follow up with them, key deliverables or actions required, and any necessary follow up’s.
If you are looking to re-enter the workforce, change industries or jobs, then it is critical that you conduct informational interviews, which really aren’t interviews at all. You are researching people who do what you want to do or are in positions that you might report to them, and ask them to meet with you for 15-30 minutes.
The goal of an informational interview is to gather as much information as you can on the nature of the industry, key trends and developments, how they broke into the industry, what they love most/least about their jobs, what are the key industry events to attend, publications to read, conferences/trade shows, panel discussions you should try and attend, and who are the rising stars in their organization that might be good for you to talk to. Ask them what if any advanced degrees, training, accreditations, or skills are required in the job you are looking to break into.
Social media is an additional tool to leverage but not in lieu of in-person networking. In LinkedIn you can join up to 50 groups. Do it! Start discussions, raise questions, provide answers where appropriate so you can build your own personal brand as an acknowledged subject matter expert.
Instead of trying to be everywhere, use the laser rifle approach to networking ,not the shotgun approach. Develop a one page strategic networking plan, in which you define all of the attributes/characteristics of the person that you would be reporting to in the 3-4 industries and 6-8 firms you are researching, and then identify all the events, conferences, trade shows where you would find those people. THOSE are the events you want/need to be attending. Join as Many Meet Up groups of professionals in the 3-4 industries you are pursuing as you can manage.
As far as how to work an event, remember people like to hear THEMSELVES speak. After 20 years of marriage I FINALLY learned that from my wife. Ask them “Why are you here tonight” or “What are you trying to get out of tonight?” Use the 5-2-1 rule…it’s something I heard once and is a great networking guideline. You must be able to say something VERY interesting about yourself in the first 5 seconds that gets them to say: “Wow, what does that mean?” so you can send a few minutes explaining. The reaction to your explanation should be: “That’s great. We should set up an hour to meet and discuss this further. Thus…”5-2-1!” Spend no more than 10 minutes talking to each person. The goal of each conversation is to schedule as many follow up discussions as you can with people that match your strategic networking profile.