HR professionals

Job Hunting Summer School: Networking 101

This article is the third part of a series. Check out the first two parts on resume writing and crafting your cover letter, and the final two parts on interviewing and negotiating your salary.

If the word networking makes you anxious, you are definitely not alone… Promoting yourself to complete strangers in the hopes of getting a job is not for the faint of heart.

But when done right, networking isn’t just a path to getting hired—it can be the golden ticket for your career, and fulfillment. The key to successful networking is authentically connecting and knowing exactly whom to contact in order to make things happen for yourself.

You may hear stories about people who conveniently met someone at a happy hour who was looking for their exact skill set, but typically, networking requires strategy, intentionality, diligence, good research, and persistence… but there’s good news—it usually works.

There’s more good news—networking doesn’t have to equal standing in a room and spamming people with your business card.

It’s the 21st century, so here’s a formula for networking that can start with just you and your computer. And even if you don’t have any contacts now, networking can be an opportunity for you to create a support system that you can carry with you the rest of your professional life.

Defining Networking

Here’s a fun fact: 70% of jobs are not posted online , which means that most jobs are filled through personal connections. You’d think this means friends and family connections, but often you’re better off creating cold networking relationships. Think about it: how often is it the case that your dad’s friend or your cousin’s ex-boss is hiring for your exact dream job? The answer is likely never. The key ingredient that those relationships are missing is relevance—they may be people you know, but they aren’t the exact people who can get you where you want to go.

That’s why cold networking can be a more effective tool, even if the thought of approaching strangers is a lot scarier than asking a friend if they know anyone hiring. Connecting with people that you actually need to meet—people who actually have the power to hire you—is essential. And the key to finding them is about honing in on the job you want. Here’s my four-step process for making it happen.

Step One: Figure Out What You Want to Do

Many people have a general idea of what they’d like to do, but they’re short on specifics like job title, industry jargon, or what the role really entails. In order to network effectively, your first step is learning to “talk the talk.”

Function First

To get started, you’ll want to pick two jobs (I call them functions) that describe the skill set you want to use in your next role. Functions can include areas like communications, product development, editing, graphic design, financial planning, biochemistry—the list is endless, but yours should define how you want to use your energy during the work day.

Focusing on function is different than focusing on industry, and although that’s also part of your networking homework, it’s far more effective to focus first on what you want to do vs. where you want to do it. Saying you’re interested in fashion, for example, overlooks all the slices of the fashion pie and doesn’t hone in on whether you want to be a designer, a publicist, or even an accountant within that industry.

As you start to narrow down what functions you’d like to pursue, the key is to have no more than two—marketing and communications, for example. It’s okay to have one if you know exactly what you want to do, but three starts to get overwhelming in a networking situation and can make you look scattered. Two functions, on the other hand, are just enough for potential employers to understand and remember who you are, what you want, what kind of skill set you’re looking to use without thinking you’re all over the place.

Here’s another way to look at it: When job seekers tell people they’re “pretty much open to anything,” or even worse, come with a long list of disjointed functions they’d like to pursue, it can overwhelm the person they’re networking with.

PRO TIP: If you feel unclear on how to define your two functions, use LikedIn as a tutorial guide. Type in some keywords that interest you to get started, then take a look at what people are doing, what they’ve done previously to their current position and how they speak about their jobs. It’s a great way to both gain clarity and start to learn the language of the various industries.

The Industry Side

After you have a solid one or two functions in mind, it’s time to delve into the industry side of the equation. Between companies you know off the top of your head and others you find via research, create a list of at least 75 companies per function that you’d like to work for. That’s a long list—150 if you have two functions in mind—but that’s the minimum number I recommend.

The final piece of Step One is the actual job title for the functions that you’re interested in. This part is important because you can perform various roles within public relations, for example, or you can work in a public relations function for a wide range of industries.

Using LinkedIn to Put It All Together

The way you crack the code on job function and industry specifics is to take full advantage of LinkedIn. Here’s how you do it:

•  Type one function word and one industry word into the search bar (“communications” and “fashion,” for example, or “recruitment” and “politics”), which will return a long list of job titles

•  Go to the “people” tab and select “all filters”

•  Select first, second, and third-degree connections so you can search your entire network

•  Fill out other filters as they appeal to you, then search

Once you have these search results, you can head down the rabbit hole of looking at people’s profiles, taking note of not only the companies they work for now, but their job histories. Where did they start out? How did they climb the ladder? Add any companies you find to your list of 75. As you find functions that appeal to you, perform a new search using those. The same goes for industry terms, and as you search, you can both cast a side net and narrow down your interests, all at once.

A search session might look like this: If you’ve been looking through “communications” and “cosmetics” for a while, you may decide that you like cosmetics but not communications. You are intrigued by influencers, though, so your next search is “influencer” and “cosmetics.” Or, if your dream job is with one particular cosmetics industry, you can go to its company page and search “influencer” from among all of the listed employees.

PRO TIP: The “All Filters” selection, which takes you to the advanced LinkedIn search, is where the gold lies. Filtering by alumni from your university can be a great way to make a cold connection with someone feel a little warmer, so I highly recommend you start there. You can also connect with people who could be your potential boss in the city where you live, or who work for a company that you’ve always admired. Other helpful tools include the “People Also Viewed” profiles on the right-hand sidebar, as well as company LinkedIn pages.

One reason the LinkedIn search is so valuable for understanding exactly what it is you want for your career is that it allows you to learn the lingo. The way people talk about their positions on the site can be very different from how a job posting might look for the same position. (You’re likely to find much more candid detail on their LinkedIn profile.) The other reason is that it’s a powerful search engine that can take you farther in your journey of curiosity than you will likely get elsewhere.

As you keep looking at profiles and keep reading people’s descriptions you’ll start to get more ideas about what you want to do. But it doesn’t happen with one quick search. I recommend spending around 4 to 6 hours creating searches, poring over profiles and taking notes. If something strikes your curiosity, follow the thread and see where it goes. Read people’s stories, get a sense of what their day-to-day responsibilities look like, and find out what resonates with you. Then re-calibrate and do it again. You’ll notice yourself picking up new key words from their profiles and folding them into another advanced search.

So, What’s the End Game?

The goal of this LinkedIn exercise is to clarify what one or two job titles/functions you actually want, what industry you actually want to be in, and what companies you’d want to work for.

Step Two: Finding the Right People

So, you have your two functions and your list of 75 companies per function. The next step is to start connecting with people who can actually hire you within the company.

Using LinkedIn here, too, use the site to identify two names from each company—the person that you think would be your potential boss, and the right HR person. Your potential boss is by far the most important here, and should be selected based on the title you want and the skill set you want to utilize. The HR person is icing on the cake, and can be more of a challenge to find (especially at large corporations).

I’ve found that HR is generally disinterested in networking with candidates, so targeting someone in HR for a connection isn’t to grab a coffee or have a conversation… It’s simply letting them know that you exist and that you’re a candidate if a job comes open that matches your skill set.

Your potential boss, on the other hand, will not only be interested in you but will also be more likely to want to get together in person or chat via phone. But we can’t go any further without answering the big question: How do you know who might be your potential boss?

The Goldilocks Zone

Here’s my formula for honing in on the right person:

•  Don’t reach too low, because it could translate into someone who’s threatened by you. If you’re looking for a coordinator position, for example, and you reach out to someone who’s currently in that role, they might feel like you’re out for their job.

•  Don’t reach too high up the ladder, either. If we take a look at the same coordinator example, the VP of the CEO is likely preoccupied with issues that are well beyond the scope of hiring you for the position you want.

•  The best place to search in this example is somewhere in the middle—think of it as the “Goldilocks zone.” People who have a management title, perhaps manager, supervisor or even director—for entry-level or lower-level positions are the people who are most likely to be hiring.

•  While this applies most of the time, the right point of contact at a small company might actually be the company owner. It’s rare, but another good reason to do your homework in advance.

PRO TIP: Most job seekers don’t trouble themselves to make this sort of effort in their networking—to find the right jobs, companies and people, to prepare an elevator pitch and a sparkling resume. So if you do take these steps, it will pay off.

Step Three: Finding Work Emails

This is the step where we part ways with LinkedIn, because as powerful as it is for research, it’s actually a barrier to entry for actual back-and-forth communication. This may seem counterintuitive, but think about your own work inbox… Is it LinkedIn? Likely not—it’s your Outlook (or whatever email program your company uses) inbox. You can’t miss emails that show up in your inbox, and that’s where we want your networking emails to land, right in line with someone’s priorities of the day.

This is a good news/bad news situation, because while many email addresses can be found via an online search and there is a process for finding them, it can be a tedious task. I make things a little bit easier using an app called Hunter. To use it, just download it from Chrome as a browser extension. You can find it here . (I’ve found it best to restart once the extension is installed.)

Hunter will integrate with sites you’re searching on, so if you head back to LinkedIn and look up the people on your potential contacts list, you’ll see that an orange Hunter button actually shows up right on their profile. Click it and it will return not only an email address, but a confidence rating.

If Hunter doesn’t work, another way to track down someone’s work email is to figure out the email formula for the company, based on a little Googling. Is it [email protected], or first initial last name? One way to look for this is to check the company’s website for any email address.

PRO TIP: Yes, this process may take a long time. But remember that the network you’re creating now, if you follow these steps, is yours for the rest of your life. It’s a one-time journey, and once it’s complete it evolves into slowly adding to your network and nurturing the relationships you have already established.

Step Four: Draft Your Cold Email

For your final step, which is actually writing your cold emails, I’ve crafted a template that you can use no matter what the situation. (It’s kind of like a formula within a formula.) It’s a structure that you can use to reach out to someone when you’re not applying for an already-posted job.

  1. Create a subject line that’s clear and concise. Some of my favorites include “Coffee?” or “Regarding a meeting.”

  2. Say hi, and let them know how you found them.

  3. Offer a light apology. (As in, “I hope you don’t mind me reaching out.”)

  4. Flatter them by telling them why you chose them. This can include their individual career path, the company they work for, or why you find the work so interesting.

  5. Say that you’re interested in a job. But don’t say you’re “job hunting,” because it can already feel ask-y for people. Say instead, “I hope to transition into or , hopefully in .”

  6. Ask for a quick call or coffee. Offer a few times that you’re available, and let them know that you can come to them.

  7. Attach a copy of your resume. Here’s how I recommend wording it: “Attached is a copy of my resume so you have an idea on my background.” Never end this sentence after the word resume—it sounds too sales-y.

  8. If it’s an email to a person that you’ve already met, offer your assistance. Here’s an example: “As always, let me know if there’s anything I can do to be helpful to you.”

Always keep in mind that email is no place to build a relationship, it’s simply a place to introduce yourself and schedule meetings. Don’t include your entire biography here, because no one will read it and (even worse) it might turn some people off. Instead, think of our fast-paced, 140-character life and keep it short.

Also remember that although this is a template, you’ll still need to tailor each email to the person who’ll be receiving it. It’s powerful to approach it in this way, because personalization is huge for both the receiver, and for you.

My final piece of advice about sending emails is to address them directly to your established contact. Don’t spam people, or send a bunch of BCC’s. Find every single person’s email and send them one at a time.

Success has no shortcuts, truly. Put in the work.

The Bottom Line: Hard Work Now Will Pay Off

All of this contact hunting and cold emailing will hopefully result in phone calls and coffee to help you land job interviews. And you may just start having networking conversations that will change your professional life. That said, it’s important to remain realistic.

My mantra for job hunting is “High intention, low attachment.” That means be really high in your intentions—that you will make an impact, connect and get to know people. At the same time, however, be low in your attachment to how they respond to you and the stories you make up about why they don’t respond. Realize that some people are just busy, or their company firewall blocked your email…whatever it is that’s totally okay.

The bottom line is that it’s crucial for hiring managers and your potential bosses really know about you, because hiring is stressful. And when a hiring manager realizes that they need to fill a position, their first stop is likely to be their own candidate pile (in some cases, even before they notify HR.) By doing all of this legwork, you’ll put yourself at the top of that pile.

Ready to take the next step in your career? Make an appointment with a SoFi Career Coach to kickstart your journey.

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Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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Ashley Stahl ABOUT Ashley Stahl Ashley Stahl is a career coach, keynote speaker, podcast host (You Turn Podcast), and author.

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