People looking for work often find that the best way to get hired these days is through a referral. So that means networking is essential. But don’t limit yourself to networking over a cup of coffee, through email or at networking events with people in your line of work.
The best way to think about networking is that it’s relationship building. Networking works best when it happens through your trusted contacts. So try networking at some of the following activities you may be involved in. They may provide excellent opportunities for references and job recommendations or assistance in switching careers:
1. A Workout, Exercise or Sports Group
You never know where chatting up people you exercise with might lead. My wife, Suzi Howard, is part of a “boot camp” exercise group in Georgia that also morphed into a running group. She happened to mention at one of her sessions that we needed to replace our roof and discovered that one of her boot camp friends is a roofer. He got our job (and gave us a great deal). We were so happy with his work, we recommended him to our next-door neighbor and he replaced her roof, too. You might make connections at your gym or swimming at the Y.
2. A Book Club
My wife is transitioning from the day job she has held for 10 years in Georgia to a new career as an art teacher. She’s in a book club and found that one of its members is dating an art teacher. That teacher helped Suzi navigate Georgia’s professional standards website. He also advised her how to study for, and take, the educators’ certification test she needed to get employed.
3. A Volunteering or Civic Organization
Marcy Ullom, 63, of South Florida has been a member of Rotary International for over 25 years. She calls the civic organization “one of my best networking tools.”
Says Ullom, who has worked in curriculum publishing for grades K-12 since 2010: “I know people all over the world as a result of my involvement in Rotary.” Ullom says that she has leveraged her Rotary network to find subject matter experts and professional writers. She is also launching an online business and has found potential investors and business advisers through Rotary International.
Also, Ullom adds, volunteering through Rotary helps her extend her network and assist others in getting hired. “I’ve referred people to Rotarians who offer the skills that someone might need,” Ullom says.
Her plumber, electrician and two of her attorneys are all Rotarians.
4. A Political Group
My wife is also involved in a nonpartisan political action committee dedicated to supporting women in Georgia who are running for office for the first time. At the group’s initial meeting, each participant had a chance to introduce herself. Suzi offhandedly mentioned that she’s an artist who does pet portraits, people portraits and something she calls “kid art,” where she embellishes a child’s drawing with her own art. As a result, she has already received preliminary interest in new jobs from several people in the club.
5. A Religious Group
Networking through your church, synagogue, mosque or other religious facility can be tricky. Sometimes, it’s frowned upon. In other cases, it may be encouraged. For example, the Aspiring Mormon Women website seeks to support and celebrate the educational and professional aspirations of LDS (Church of Latter Day Saints) women.
As with any group that’s not primarily about networking, adopting a passive approach is often wise. If someone there happens to ask what you do for a living or requests referrals for a product or service in your field, it’s okay to step up. But don’t be market yourself aggressively.