7 Networking Tips for Remote Job Seekers
Separate short-term losses from long-term losses. It may be true that you’ll take a salary cut initially when you’re switching careers or pivoting positions. But is that worth staying in a profession you loathe until retirement or staying unemployed when you could be collecting new skills? Make a list of what you’ll be earning by taking that salary cut, including the intangibles. Perhaps you’ll have your weekends free to restore antique cars again or finally be in town to coach Little League. That’s worth a lot.
Know your goals and your audience’s pain points. It’s hard to build a brand if you don’t have a specific goal and audience in mind, so you need to clearly answer the question, “What do I want to be known for and by whom?” Your audience will be the hiring decision makers and your network contacts, and you want to know a lot about them so you can show how your contributions will solve their pain points. Research each company you’re targeting to learn about their strategic priorities, competition, and challenges. To add structure to your research, you may want to employ a mini-SWOT analysis (identify the audiences’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats):
- What are the strengths of the industry, market, or company, and how are they being engaged?
- What is the main weakness of the industry, market, or company, and how can it be turned around?
- What changes or opportunities are happening now or predicted in the market or company (like regulations, technology, globalization)? Which of these are threats?
- Who are the key competitors and what differentiates them (opportunities and threats)?
Define and communicate your personal brand. To get a better sense of what people see as your current brand, try this brief exercise. Choose ten people to contact. Include people from a variety of circles like friends, family members, and work colleagues. Ask. Email the people on your list the following questions: What are my strengths? What areas need more development? What am I known for in the group (at work, in your family, in your group of friends)? Give little other direction. Allow them to write what comes to mind, and assess their responses for trends or patterns.Chances are that when you evaluate the responses, you found some alignment and common themes.
Close your knowledge gaps. Experience is experience, whether you receive a paycheck or not. Take on an internal project. Create your own part-time gig in the field you’re pursuing. How? You need to be resourceful! You may even decide to volunteer your time. If you do, you’ll find that, in addition to building skills, you’ll expand your network and have a chance to test the waters on your career switch before fully making the leap.
Research companies in industries that interest you. Make a list of 20 or more actual organizations that meet these criteria. Reach beyond the top names like Google and Goldman Sachs. As of 2018, 99.9 percent of U.S. organizations had fewer than 500 employees, which means you have lots of options that you don’t yet know about. Find them! Look at LinkedIn or other professional websites, your local biz journal, Forbes.com’s “Best Companies to Work For” list, Inc. Magazine’s “500 Fastest Growing” list, and similar resources. Use your connections on professional networking sites to identify first- and second-level contacts who are currently (or were previously) employed at companies you’re targeting.
Start the conversation. Reach out to your current contacts to relay interest in learning more about their company. If you only find a second-level contact at a company in your LinkedIn search, ask the first-level connection for an introduction. Not sure what to say?
Here are some examples of my favorite general conversation starters:
- What do you love about what you do?
- What has surprised you about your profession (or company)?
- In the news, I recently saw [insert non-controversial current event]. How does this impact your field?
No connections? No problem. If you can find the company on a professional networking site like LinkedIn, search the profiles of current employees, and find something you have in common with them. Perhaps you went to the same university, follow similar Thought Leaders, or support a shared cause. Use this as an entry point to introduce yourself. Being proactive takes a little courage. But, if you don’t ask, the answer is always “no.” You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Stay in touch. Networking is about cultivating a relationship over several contact points and building a mutually beneficial partnership. Approach your contacts from a standpoint of exploration and curiosity. Don’t push your resume on them. Be proactive, but allow the relationship to develop naturally. Soon you’ll get introductions to others inside the companies that you’re targeting. Patience and diplomatic persistence are key.
When it comes to networking, most people have more excuses than strategies. Energy that could be spent growing connections is often wasted belaboring the reasons why it doesn’t make sense to reach out, or why it would be better to wait, or why those contacts probably couldn’t help anyway. It’s true that not everyone will return your call.
Not every conversation will move you closer to your goal. Sometimes it might take months or years before you see the fruits of your labor. But the more you work at it, the more likely you’ll reap the benefits. Like most things, you get out what you put in.
If you’re still waffling about networking, my question is, “So what happens in your job search if you don’t reach out?” The answer is invariably “nothing.” You won’t form more relationships, you won’t get interesting information about the company you’re targeting, you won’t get introductions or referrals, and you won’t be one step closer to landing that job switch. When you look at it that way, the trade-off seems well worth the risk.
Excerpted with permission from Switchers by Dawn Graham, copyright Dawn Graham.