Five ways to build your back-to-work networks

Why networking is important for a back-to-work job search


We talk regularly about the importance of networking as one of the key routes to get back to work after a long career break. The value of networking has really been brought home to me by two recent experiences.

First of all, two highly experienced and qualified women who have successfully returned to work, one in investment banking and the other to a senior corporate role, told me how unhelpful headhunters were when they approached them. This included headhunters with whom they previously had relationships during their pre-break careers. The banker (who is now happily employed at Credit Suisse following a placement on the Real Returns programme) was told that her career break of 11 years was too long for the headhunter to place her. She was advised that the only way to find a role would be through her own network.

Separately in a meeting I attended to learn more about a new and growing professional women’s network, my contact told me about two roles that she was trying to fill, in a discreet way, that might be suitable for a returner. These two roles are examples of the true ‘hidden job market’ that really does exist: often managers want to make a hire quickly, quietly, inexpensively and without lots of administration. They rely on their networks to do this as they view their own contacts as reliable and credible sources of talented candidates.

Five ways to build your networks

To access the hidden job market and circumvent unhelpful headhunters you need to get networking. Networking doesn’t simply consist of walking into a room full of strangers and introducing yourself. More broadly, networking provides you with opportunities to connect with people who have similar interests, talents and concerns that you have. Through your engagement with them you will have opportunities to learn about potential roles and to talk about your own search. Ways to start making these contacts include joining any of the following:

  1. Membership organisations that match your professional interests. Networks exist for people with interests ranging from hedge funds to horticulture, oil engineering to oriental languages. These organisations commonly have informative newsletters, speaker events and training opportunities
  2. Relevant LinkedIn groups where you can initiate or contribute to discussions. In this way, you’ll learn more about the issues that are current, raise your profile in the group and gain openings to contact people directly
  3. Alumni groups. All universities and business schools and many employers and secondary schools have these in place, as they recognise the value of a long-term relationship with you. Many of these groups actively encourage members to talk to each other for employment advice
  4. Professional associations. If you have a professional qualification, your accrediting body will also have a useful network as well as offering other career support
  5. Informal networks. Aside from these formal routes, you can make valuable connections through broadening or taking a more active role in social or community activities – a community group, a volunteer organisation, a school parent body, a religious community. We rarely know who our local networks are connected to and the ‘hidden jobs’ they might know about.

As you build these connections, remember to talk to them about your background and what you are looking for, so that they will be able to help you. For your networking to be effective you have to be clear and convincing about the role you are seeking. See our previous post on Telling your Story if you are unsure how to do this.

For more advice on networking, see our previous posts
Do I really have to network?
Top tips for enjoyable networking
LinkedIn – an essential tool for your return to work

Posted by Katerina

Top tips for Enjoyable Networking

You might think that enjoyable and networking are two words that can never appear together in the same sentence!  It is very common to find networking difficult, uncomfortable, too time-consuming and best avoided.  If this is your current thinking, take a look at “Do I really have to network?” to help you to approach networking more positively and with confidence.  If you’re ready to give networking a try, here are some key tips and ideas for making it enjoyable:

  1. You already know how to network.  It is part of life and you probably spend a lot of your time asking people for advice, information and recommendations in a natural, easy way.
  2. Practise telling your story before you start out networking, so that you are comfortable and fluent with it.
  3. Be realistic. You are unlikely to come away from your first meeting with a job offer. Or your 10th meeting. Or even your 20th. But each meeting you have will be taking you one step closer to your goal.
  4. Be really clear about your goal for the networking meeting.  It is much easier for people to be helpful to you if they understand what you need.  Are you looking for information about the requirements for a particular type of role that interests you?  Do you want to understand an industry or organisation better?  Are you looking for insights into specific people?  Do you need advice on how to find a particular role?  Are you looking for further contacts?  Do you want ideas on where your skills and talents might fit in an organisation?
  5. Work out why it would be helpful for the person you want to contact to meet you.  Remember that people are always on the look out for new information. What insights, knowledge, experience, skills, talents and network do you have?  You always have something to offer!
  6. Think, in advance, what will make each meeting a success for you and celebrate your success afterwards.  If you think of the meeting as a chance to talk about something that is interesting and important to you (an area that interests you & your future career), you are more likely to feel positive about your experience.
  7. Keep your meetings short.  People are busy and so if you say you’ll only need 20/30 minutes of someone’s time, keep to your commitment.  That way you make sure you don’t cause irritation.
  8. Find a networking buddy.  This is a supporter who can encourage you to get started and to keep going, someone to discuss your meeting preparation with who will also enjoy hearing about your experience.
Lastly, once you are in your new role, don’t stop networking.  It will continue to be important for you to learn new information about your field, meet potential customers and suppliers, as well as possible employers and even future employees.

Do I really have to network?

Networking is an essential element of finding your way back to work – and it can also be the most daunting!  For many people, networking means entering a room of strangers or acquaintances, ‘working the room’ and leaving with a fist full of business cards and the promise of some follow-up meetings.  This is a very extreme example of networking and isn’t likely to be the way you find your next role.  Nevertheless, networking will be an essential element of your return to work strategy – so what’s getting in your way?

Why do we find networking difficult?
Our most common objections to networking are:
  • networking is only for political types. How true is this?   Are you being political in wanting to learn some new information, get ideas and advice, find a new role or develop your career?
  • lack of time. This is more a question of how important your job search is among your list of competing priorities. It will need to be near to number one, for you to put in the time and effort that effective networking requires.
  • shyness or reserve, not wanting to bother people.  This usually stems from lack of confidence.  It is really important that you start to work on your confidence level before embarking on your networking activity.  If you are completely lacking confidence, you certainly won’t find networking possible, let alone enjoyable. You need to believe you have something to offer the people you connect with.
Some networking truths
It might be helpful for you to think about the following realities of networking, if you have any lingering objections to it.
  1. Networking is part of life.  Everyone does it.  The people you wish to connect with will all have been helped at some point in their career by someone with whom they have networked. They will all be networking to find information and to meet
    potential customers, suppliers, employees and employers.  You are not asking them to do anything out of the ordinary and you are probably doing it yourself, all the time, without even realising it.  When you ask someone you know for a restaurant, a plumber or a hotel recommendation, you are networking!
  2. Networking isn’t all about attending large events. Contacting a friend of a friend for a short chat about their role can be just as valuable.
  3. The most obvious reason why someone might be keen to talk to you is that most people are on the look out for new sources of information or insight and employers are usually looking out for people with talent and skills. You will always be of interest to the people you are meeting if you bring perspectives and insights, as well as your own network. When we’re working hard, we often don’t have time to keep up-to-date with industry articles and research; if you take time to read about your area of interest, you can bring this new information to your new contacts.
  4. Most people love to talk about themselves!  So, if you are asking about a person’s career path, their role, their training, their industry knowledge or their organisation they will often welcome talking to you.