"We're coming up on the best five weeks of networking for the entire year, from Thanksgiving to New Year's," says Dave Sherman, an author, motivational speaker and master networker. "Everyone says there's never any business during the last five weeks of the year, but it's a gold mine for networking because you get invited to so many parties."
Parties are perfect venues for networking because networking is all about making connections with people, sharing interests and finding common ground, says Sherman. The inherently social and relaxed atmosphere of a party facilitates this.
If the importance of networking in your job search still eludes you, consider this fact: An astounding 70 percent of U.S. jobs are never publicly advertised, according to Sherman.
"The only way to find those jobs is by meeting people who know people who know about those jobs," he says.
That hidden job market - the market for jobs that companies would like to fill but haven't advertised-has ballooned during the recession.
"There are companies that need to hire people right now," Sherman says, "but they're not willing to post the jobs online because they do not want to be inundated with resumes, knowing that 85 percent of the people who apply are unqualified."
What's more, HR professionals polled by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas say networking and social networking are the best job search methods.
As your social calendar swells this holiday season, make the most of your networking opportunities by heeding Sherman's seven networking do's and don'ts.
1. DO arrive on time.
Showing up fashionably late is a networking faux pas. To get the most out of networking opportunities, arrive on time for parties or 15 to 30 minutes early if the event is a conference, lecture or trade show where your early presence won't impose on a host.
"If you show up early, you'll meet the movers and shakers at the event-the chair, the speakers," says Sherman. "Plus, you never have to worry about having to break into other people's conversations. If you're one of the first people in the room, others will begin to congregate around you."
2. DON'T approach networking events as sales opportunities.
Trade shows, conferences and parties are opportunities to meet people, "to create likability and commonality," says Sherman, the two cornerstones of networking. No one at a networking event is going to buy your product right then and there, he says, even if the product is yourself. So don't try so hard to sell yourself. Instead, find common ground with the people you meet. Break the ice by asking people about their interests outside of work.
"If you're not doing that with every person you meet," Sherman says, "you're prospecting, not networking."
3. DON'T start conversations by giving out your business card.
When you immediately hand your business card to people to whom you're introducing yourself, the action suggests that you're interested only in selling a product or service to those people, says Sherman. "Never give out a card until you're asked for one or until you feel a connection has been made."
4. DON'T try to meet everyone at the event.
Networking is not a numbers game, Sherman contends. Instead of trying to meet everyone at a party, aim to make meaningful connections with, say, five people.
5. DO make it easy for people to help you.
If the topic of your employment situation comes up and you have the opportunity to talk about your job search, Sherman advises job seekers to state specifically what kind of job they're seeking, as well as the industry and any specific companies that interest them.
6. DO focus your elevator speech on the future.
When you're fashioning your elevator speech or personal branding statement, make sure it isn't purely historical-a reflection on what you've done in the past, says Sherman.
It should state what you can do and how your experiences will move a prospective employer forward.
7. DO remember that you have something to offer.
Layoffs can devastate people's self-worth, but just because you're temporarily out of a job doesn't mean you don't have anything to offer and can't attend networking events, says Sherman.
"If people take the time to learn the proper skills to make the most of an event," he says, "they'll attend more events, meet more people, learn about more jobs and land jobs faster."
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