It’s no secret that we are all in the middle of one of the most dismal job markets in decades. Many people have been out of work or underemployed for record periods of time, and there are also record numbers of job seekers vying for almost every job that opens up. Craigslist, Monster.com, eLance and all the other job or freelance sites are overwhelmed with resumes and job seekers, with nowhere near enough open positions to go around. It’s a scary time to be looking for a job.
That’s why networking is more important now than it ever has been before. And with the rise of social media sites like Facebook (for casual users) or LinkedIn (for professionals), networking has taken on whole new dimensions in recent years. Here are some things to consider:
- Get an early start. If you’re fresh out of college or if you’re trying to get a foothold in a new career move, the sooner you can start making those connections, the better off you’ll be. If you’re freelancing, cultivate more connections whenever you possibly can, from fellow freelancers or from your clients themselves. If you’re in school, hook up with your classmates or find student chapters of professional societies.
- Choose your associates carefully. Unfortunately, a down job market also brings the scammers and fly-by-nighters out of the woodwork. They know that there are job seekers (and sometimes clients) who are bordering on desperation. They might be out to take advantage of you, or they might be looking for a pawn to help advance a cause of some sort. You don’t want that hung on you, so tread carefully and make good decisions.
- Cast your net wide. Don’t limit yourself to just your field, or to people with tastes, interests or skills to your own. It’s easy to make this mistake and to just have associates that are in your “comfort zone,” but remember that the wider a network of people you have, the more resources you can have to fall back on if things go sour.
- Quid pro quo. Networking is a two-way street. If there’s anything you can do for your associates in return, whether it’s job referrals, professional references or anything else, don’t hesitate to do it. It will pay off for you in the long run.
- Go online. A staggering 84% of Americans now are engaged in some sort of online social networking, whether that means forums, newsgroups, social networking sites like LinkedIn, dating groups or what-have-you. This has been a true game-changer in many ways, helping build networks among people who may never meet face-to-face. But if you’re new to a site or forum, bear in mind the culture and environment of the site, don’t be pushy and don’t be rude. You may need introductions to get your feet wet and to be accepted. Trust your better instincts in these cases, and those connections can take you far.