With forecasts of the UK's economic prospects for 2012 remaining gloomy, the chances are that many more people will be seeking new employment over the course of this year. With more well-qualified people seeking fewer jobs, strong networks will become ever-more relevant, as will a proactive approach.
Before Christmas I met someone who has taken the need to be proactive and develop a strong network to heart in her search for a new job. Zoe is in a different position to many others; she is seeking a career change by choice rather than having it forced on her through redundancy. Currently in a relatively secure job in the City, Zoe wants to move into technology.
"I thought of every person I know who works or knows people in my chosen field", Zoe told me. "I emailed each of them and arranged to meet up for a pint. Over beers, I ask about his/her work, the company, the industry, everything, and then ask for advice on my search for new opportunities. I always take notes. Then I ask who else he/she might be able to put me in touch with. And the cycle repeats and the circle expands."
Many people are reticent about asking their network for help at a time like this, but shouldn't be. If you have invested in building relationships, are clear about the help you are asking for and they know that you would do the same for them, most people would be delighted to help. Zoe has, in fact, found it very easy to get support from her network.
"No need to be shy about asking for meetings. It's usually flattering for the other person! Everyone loves talking about himself and offering advice. Take the attitude not of 'maybe he/she can get me a job', but 'I wonder what I'll learn from him/her' and 'I wonder how he/she can help me expand my network.'"
Zoe hasn't stopped with asking her existing network for introductions though. With a clear focus on her chosen industry, she has been attending a range of networking events in that sector.
"When I decided I needed a job change, going to networking events was one of the first things I did to learn about a new field. A few months ago, I decided I wanted to change industries, from banking to technology. To pull that off, I knew I would have to learn as much as possible about my chosen new area, discover the roles where my skills would be most suited, and of course, meet people in the industry who were hiring.
"At the first networking events I attended, my goal was to learn more about the tech industry and confirm that that was the field I wanted to pursue. I walked in with an open mind. Meeting someone for the first time, I'd say 'I'm just here to learn about the tech and online industry, as I'm looking to change industries. I'd love to hear about your company and what you do.'
"I was afraid that people would blow me off, but the opposite happened. People love to talk about themselves and share their knowledge, especially when a newcomer expresses interest. I took a card from each person that I spoke to, and followed up with an email the next day: 'Great meeting you last night. I'd love to continue talking about your experiences, and I'm sure you have more good advice on where I might fit in the industry. Could I buy you a beer at the pub of your choice?'"
Zoe's approach resulted in a number of meetings and follow on introductions. I met her at an event for technology companies and she had clearly built a strong level of visibility in the network in a short space of time.
The New York Times bestselling author on networking Ivan Misner talks about three stages of networking, something he calls the VCP process®. First you have to build visibility, so that people know you and who you are. You then develop credibility, where people trust you and believe in your abilities. Finally you can move onto profitability, where you can ask for help. Asking for help too soon would lead to you putting off people in your network, creating a negative reputation or simply getting weak introductions.
Zoe clearly recognises this in her approach. Her attitude of simply going to events to learn about a new sector and build new relationships takes the pressure off. She doesn't feel that she has to ask everyone for a job, nor do the people she meets feel pressured. But as she develops the relationships with those people the chances increase that they will not only make relevant introductions for her, but they will put their own recommendation behind the introduction.
Zoe will also be able to start a new job in the technology sector with an existing network in an industry she has never previously worked in. Not only can her proactive approach to networking help her to find the job she craves, it will also help her hit the ground running on her first day.
Follow Andy Lopata on Twitter: www.twitter.com/andylopata