Ask DFS: How Can I Brush Up on My Networking Skills?

Dear DFS: 

I recently became unemployed a few months back and have been looking for work ever since. My friends and family keep telling me that I need to put myself out there to find a new job, but I’m not exactly confident in my networking skills. How can I make the most out of my social circle while building new relationships at the same time? Where are some good places to meet potential employers? Who should I talk to? How do I present myself when I’m unemployed? Help! I’m in serious need of some effective networking techniques!

Ready to become a social butterfly!

Jennifer, Dayton

Dear Jennifer,

Kudos to you for taking charge in expanding your professional network and establishing key relationships. Creating strategic connections is critical to your overall career development. Networking requires us to step just outside of our comfort zone and putting ourselves “out there” can be scary. Here are few ways to boost your networking skills (almost) effortlessly:

Watch how you introduce yourself. One of my favorite bloggers, Divine Caroline, suggests that we avoid using the words “I’m unemployed” when networking. Instead use phrases like “I’m between jobs. I just left a company that does X. And now, I’m looking to join a company that does Y. Hey, I wonder if you know any companies like that?” or “I am a job seeker” or “ I am committed to finding an employer who would value my talents in X, Y, and Z. I’d love your ideas about companies that might fit that bill.”

Ask for introductions. Whether you know it or not people within your network have networks of their own. If you have colleagues, associates, or friends who are connected with decision makers (i.e., Human Resource Managers, business owners, etc.,) don’t be afraid to ask for a formal introduction. If you can’t secure a formal introduction try getting their contact information such as first and last name or email so that you can connect with/follow them on social media sites.

Don’t go in for “the ask” too soon. The biggest problem people have with networking is going in for the “ask” too soon. Keep in mind that you’re looking to build relationships not asking for favors. Don’t introduce yourself by asking for a job! Show interest in your potential connection and I can guarantee you that they will show interest in you. Remember, being interested makes you interesting.

Capitalize on social media.  What social media platforms do you use to connect with others? In the new economy you need to expand the ways in which you’re identifying opportunities.  You should be following leaders in fields that interest you and professional associations related to your desired field on Facebook and Twitter. Make sure that you are connecting and formally introducing yourself to key people in your desired field via LinkedIn.  Check out my favorite guide for creating an effective LinkedIn profile.

Make the most of your time offline. Find venues and events where the purpose is to develop and attract professionals. Join and search “Professional Women’s Networking Group” in your area. Take care to attend events that are specifically designed for networking with other like-minded women, business professionals, and decision makers.

Jennifer, most importantly I encourage you to never stop networking – everywhere that you go, everyone that you touch may know someone who has an opening. Use every conversation as a way to gain another name to contact. Maintain a support network that is aware of your unemployment and personally invested in your return to the workforce. A support network provides personal contacts that can help you redefine change and adjust through unemployment.

Building a network takes time. I hope these tips will help you build your professional network and move you further in your career.

Wishing you continued success!

Shantell J. Malachi

Executive Director

Dress for Success Central Virginia


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