As a result of COVID-19 related layoffs, and an improving health climate due to vaccinations, a job search is much more competitive. You may have a strong resume, cover letter, and interview skills, but still can’t seem to get the final offer.

What’s missing? The answer for many is the lack of a professional network outside of former employers. Before COVID, it was said that 80% of jobs are found through connections.  If there are two identical candidates, and one of them comes with a recommendation, or even a connection with an employee, that candidate is more likely to get hired.

Building a professional network can be difficult for a lot of folks.  It is something essential whether you are currently looking for work, or are looking to continue to grow in the field in which you currently work.  Pre-COVID there were plenty of industry-specific networking opportunities in-person, but that has been on pause. Since then, LinkedIn has become the center of the professional networking world. On LinkedIn, you must put yourself out there a little more than you might in person to find somebody who would be helpful to talk with and get to know.  Here are a couple of ways you can get started:

Utilize friends/family/coworkers and their networks: Find the people you feel most comfortable reaching out to for career conversations and send them an email. Mention the areas you are interested in learning more about, and see if anyone has experience in those areas, or knows somebody who might. If a friend knows somebody in the industry, they might be able to connect you for an informational interview. These are all about collecting knowledge. Learning must be the focus.

If you are job-searching, coming into informational interviews asking for a job directly will alienate the folks you are meeting with. Ask about the field, what you should know, how they got their foot in the door, etc. If they know of an opening they think you’d be a good fit for, they will let you know.

Send a copy of your resume in advance of the conversation for industry-specific advice. This way, they have a copy of it already if they want to forward it to HR, or connect you with their network.

Once the meeting wraps up ask them if there is anyone else who would be good for you to speak with. These suggestions might come up organically, but if not, asking cannot hurt. If they can connect you with others, be sure to follow-up to meet with those connections and repeat the process with each contact.

Take advantage of LinkedIn’s advanced search functions: If you already have a strong LinkedIn page with a good number of connections, using LinkedIn’s advance search can help you pinpoint potential folks to reach out to.

  • Click on the “My Network” button on the top of the page.
  • Click on “Connections” located on the left side of the page. Here you will see all your 1st degree LinkedIn contacts. At this point, you can click “search with filters” button at the top left of the connections box.
  • Once that page loads, click on “all filters” up top. Now a side window pops up with filter options. It will automatically have “1st” checked off in green – at that same spot, click the box for “2nd.” This now shows you all your immediate connections, in addition to all their connections.

Continue to add different filters like company, industry, location, school, etc. to whatever best suits what you are looking for. You can even filter to only include folks who are interested in pro-bono or volunteering, who might be more willing to respond.

Send a connection or message to people you are interested in talking with. They will see that you have at least one connection with them, which also leads to more responses. Ask them if they’d have time to speak about their experience, career, or industry. Be specific in your message and refer to things you see on their page that pique your interest. This shows that you have done the research and are really interested in them specifically. You will be surprised how many people you’ll hear from.

These are just a couple places you can start. Building and maintaining a network takes effort and persistence. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back from somebody you reach out to – just reach out to the next person. This can be daunting, but will pay off both in career advancement and job searching.

If you are currently looking for full-time work, and are struggling to get things started with networking, we’d love to talk to you more about our 3 Cups of Coffee® program, which connects job-seekers with volunteer mentors for a few meetings that provide advice and support. Reach out to to get started.

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