With so much technology available, sometimes we forget that good old fashioned in-person networking is one of the best tools for finding new employment. “WHAT?!?!?! You want me to actually talk to real, live people?” Yes, eye-to-eye contact means a lot more nowadays. Especially with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter… actually talking to someone is the new “out of the box” idea to get noticed.
“Where do I start,” you ask? Each area of the country is different, but here are a few ideas to get you started no matter where you live:
Chamber of Commerce (http://www.uschamber.com/): The Chamber of Commerce focuses on developing relationships between local business, government, and community organizations. It’s almost like the Visitor’s Center for businesses. Most areas of the country have a local Chamber that you can join for a monthly fee, which will allow you to participate in activities for free or a discounted price. Most importantly, this is your chance to network with some of the movers and shakers in town. Most members of the Chamber appreciate networking and like to give each other business when possible. Let your fellow Chamber members know that you are in the market for a new job and seek their advice and connections. Most networking meetings also allow you to introduce yourself to the entire group, which is a free commercial and chance to market yourself.
Rotary Club (http://www.rotary.org/en/aboutus/sitetools/clublocator/pages/ridefault.aspx): Rotary Clubs vary by area. In many cities, Rotary is extremely popular with all ages. Rotary does require a bit more commitment that most networking clubs, but you can be sure that members are committed to being a part of the organization. Rotarians are extremely charitable, so the options for getting involved are endless. Join a committee and show the club what you can do. This will open doors for your new career.
Toastmasters (http://www.toastmasters.org): Toastmasters is a great place to learn how to speak in public and be a leader. You may wonder what this has to do with networking. Clearly communicating your idea is vital to showing potential employers what you can bring to the table. Toastmasters gives you true on-the-spot experience with speaking in public. Plus, it’s a chance to network with others.
MeetUp.com (http://www.meetup.com): MeetUp.com will show you what local groups have been formed and “meet up” depending on your interests. For instance, if you are in internet marketing, you can search and find local groups of other internet marketing professionals. Each group is started and run by regular people, so there are typically no costs in attending meet ups. Meet ups are usually fairly small, so it’s a good chance for one-on-one networking. You can even start your own group for a small monthly group fee.
Local networking groups: Each city offers different networking opportunities. In Pittsburgh, PA, The Technology Council (http://www.pghtech.org) is one of the best places to network for business people of all industries in Pittsburgh, so do not limit yourself to just one industry. Do some research on the companies you would like to work for and find out where their employees choose to network. Most online executive bios share that information.
You need to weave yourself into the community so that when someone hears of a job, you are the first person they think of. Many jobs are not posted online because they were filled through word of mouth and in-person interactions. Networking builds your credibility in the community and gives you access to resources most candidates do not have.
Get the most from your networking and have topics of discussion in your back pocket. The best way to get noticed in networking situations is to shine. Do not be shy and be sure to introduce yourself to everyone you can. Make an impression by making the effort. Networking groups usually have a member directory, so use it. Reach out to fellow members when you hear of an opportunity and see if they have any connections to get you in the door. If you meet someone interesting at a networking event, ask if they would meet you for coffee sometime to talk more. Companies are more likely to give you an interview with the recommendation of someone they know. Follow up is very important as well. Be sure to treat every contact you make like a client.
Networking is what you make of it, so get out there and test the waters. Make the most of your connections and get your business cards ready!
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