How does on properly "network" when looking for a new job?
March 11, 2013 8:16 AM   Subscribe

When job searching, how do you successfully network without looking tacky, blowing your cover at your current job, looking desperate - just general rules for avoiding acting in poor taste, whatever that would look like?

I am currently employed in an industry that is very "networky" already, though I usually do not attend networking events because it is mostly just so buyers and vendors can all get together and find new business/new partners. I also never have anyone to go with me and get paranoid standing around by myself.

I am aggressively looking for a new job these days though, so I'm trying to think as outside the box as I can here. I've already contacted old coworkers to see if they know of anything and it's led to an interview, but the job wasn't a good fit. I also responded to a recruiter who reached out to me on LinkedIn which led to two interviews, but it didn't go anywhere afterward. In conclusion though - unsurprisingly - actually talking to people has gotten me interviews more than applying to places online and on linkedin which sort of just feels like sending my resume and cover letter into a black hole, no matter how carefully I tailor them. So - I am trying to talk to more people.

My question is, is there a way to go to these networking events and make it clear that I'm looking to change jobs? Is that desperate, tacky and off-putting? Is it wrong to go on behalf of my company without letting them know I am attending? Am I leading someone on (for instance, a vendor) if we connect at a networking event and they see that I was only interested in job opportunities, not doing business? Sorry, I've been working professionally for about 3 years now and still don't understand all the social norms around this so I'm paranoid about breaking them - would hate to tell people "well actually I'm here because I'm looking to see who might be hiring, I'm looking to change jobs - do you know of any openings?" and just looking really off-putting.

Any advice on this? Also, if anyone knows of more creative ways to job search while still employed, I'd love to know.
posted by windbox to Work & Money (5 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Networking is about much more than just connecting to people who could give you jobs, though it's often nowadays to think of it that way.

A network is simply a collection of people you know. You have networks in your life already, in your family, in your school, in work, etc. Part of the reason Ivy League schools are so helpful to graduates, beyond the level of education, is the fact that their alumni tend to stay networked to one another, for instance.

"Networking" is about expanding the people you know in a focused direction. Some of the best ways to do this are to join professional organizations, discussion boards, attend events, etc. However, if the only reason you're networking is to get a position and then dump the network until the next time you're in need, people pick up on that.

People recommend the people they know. Getting to know more people means getting to know more people, not attending events with your resume in-hand, hoping someone will offer you a job.

You can certainly network toward a job, by asking for informational interviews, by asking people you already know to set you up with people they know, and by joining groups that are attended by the people who might know people who can hire you. But it has to be an ongoing thing, not just at the time you're looking for a job.
posted by xingcat at 8:53 AM on March 11, 2013

The Universe rewards action. There's nothing tacky about letting people know that you're open to new opportunities. When I need a new project (I'm a freelancer in show biz), I let everyone know--people in professional organizations I belong to, online forums I participate in, my FB page. Now, being that public might not work for you or your situation, but in general, I think that being direct, rather than hinting, works well. You've got a great product to sell, and you're letting people know about it.
When you talk to a vendor, you chit-chat, ask how business is going, and then work in that you're actually thinking of moving jobs--what have they heard? Ask them to keep you in mind for the future, chit-chat a bit more and on to the next.
Tacky is when you're trying to be subtle and stealth-y, rather than just telling the truth.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:59 AM on March 11, 2013

I'd say it's a little sketchy to look for jobs on company time if you're representing your company formally at a daytime event. But if these are evening networking events for your industry, you're not there "on behalf" of your company, right? You're just there because you're in the industry, currently working at your company. And even if you are formally representing your company at a daytime event and being paid for it, who's to stop you meeting up with some of those folks you've met during the day for some after-hours drinks to chat about job prospects and career advice? I think that's entirely appropriate and not tacky, as long as you're not desperate and clingy about it. Much like dating, if they seem to kind of blow you off early on, then it's probably not going to happen -- don't push it or else it gets awkward. But meeting lots of people and casually mentioning that you're "single" (aka, open to a new job opportunity) isn't a problem at all!

From the other side of it, I go to conferences and tradeshows where people bring up job searches with me all the time, and I'm always happy to talk to them about open positions at my company -- we need to hire a lot of people right now, so I'm thrilled to spread the word. But I certainly respond much better if someone has a clue about what we do, where our office is, and what positions they might actually be interested in. I am NOT interested in someone I've watched dropping off a resume and giving his elevator pitch at every single table before he gets to mine.

Who else do you have in your networks that you might be able to leverage? Alumni from your college or university? Can you more actively get in touch with recruiters who might find placements for you? Are there other industry events -- seminars, talks, whatever -- that you could attend and meet people who aren't just buying and selling?
posted by olinerd at 9:00 AM on March 11, 2013

I am aggressively looking for a new job these days

Maybe practice articulating more specifically what it is you want in that new job. (This would also be helpful so that you'll know it when you see it.)

That becomes the subject when you sense the time is right to bring up the idea of changing jobs. If the only thing someone hears is that you "are looking for a new job", you risk a continuing series of dead-end recommendations and referrals. Start talking about the specifics of what you want and people are more likely to offer more useful ideas.
posted by John Borrowman at 9:11 AM on March 11, 2013

Many ppl nowadays have side gigs that r related or unrelated to their FT job. I sometimes say "I do development work for Current Employer and also am taking on new clients for my side gig in New industry.
posted by PeaPod at 10:29 PM on March 11, 2013

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