Reach Out—to Get That Job.

Maintaining an active network of professional contacts and references can enhance your employment prospects if you suddenly find yourself in the market for a job. The best way to land a new position is by reaching out to your friends, family, former teachers and ex-colleagues and asking them what’s out there—in other words, networking. “It’s far easier for people to find work when they have established connections,” says Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources, Menlo Park, California.

Even if you’re not looking for a job, staying in touch with others in the profession and even outside provides you with a chance to brainstorm strategies and share best practices for remaining competitive. McDonald points out, however, that networking mistakes are easy to make, especially when you’re out of practice. Here are some things to remember when you’re out there looking for new contacts.

Be sure to make an appearance at professional and industry events. If you delegate this responsibility entirely to other staff members, you will miss valuable networking opportunities. Attend professional association meetings whenever possible and talk to your peers: Don’t sit in a corner by yourself.

Always go to the networking reception preceding a business function. Plan to arrive early to mingle with other guests or even the keynote speaker before the program begins. Scan the sign-in sheet to see who has arrived. Then seek out the people you most want to meet.

Strive to expand your circle of contacts. Your network will multiply when it includes professionals at varying experience levels, not just your peers. Look outside the accounting profession for possible contacts: You never know who might have the right connections.

Seek out new venues. Networking isn’t just for business occasions. Make an effort to meet at least three new people at social gatherings such as sporting events or holiday parties. Always carry business cards with you and don’t be afraid to hand them out. Spark a conversation with strangers and then “casually” mention your career aspirations or current professional situation.

Be up front. Honesty is the best policy when approaching people for help with your job quest: People will appreciate your candor and be more willing to assist you. First help yourself by preparing a 15-second sales pitch. (Your skills are what you’re selling.) Deliver the pitch only when you have someone’s full attention.

Keep in touch without being overly aggressive. It is important to communicate regularly with the people in your network, but avoid becoming a disruption. Alternate your ways of reaching out to them: Send an e-mail one week; try a phone call the next. Remember special occasions with a cheerful note in which you can include a simple update about your status. Inviting your contact out for dinner or drinks is another good way to foster a casual relationship and get a chance to bring up your career goals. The more you see a person, the less awkward it will be to call him or her.

Bring a pen! Don’t forget to write down all pertinent information. After meeting someone new and exchanging business cards, jot down a few notes about where you met and your conversation on the back of the card; this will jog your memory later. Capture some personal things you learned about your contacts, such as what gym they attend or where they went to college; these will help you think of topics to discuss when you again touch base with them.

Show your appreciation. Always let people know you value their help. You can send a simple e-mail to express your gratitude, although a handwritten expression of thanks generally is a better route to take.

Keep at it. Even if those you meet aren’t able to help you right away, maintaining your network and a positive outlook ultimately will lead to new opportunities.

Source: Robert Half Management Resources, , 2002.


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