According to LinkedIn’s global survey 70% of people were hired at a company where they had a connection and 80% believe that business networking is the most successful way to find a job and advance in your career. Quite simply, it boils down to this: people want to do business with people they know and trust. For those looking to return to work after a career break, business networking is particularly useful. It’s what puts you on the radar of recruiters and other professionals and allows you to build your own grid of business contacts.
But as with most things, to be successful at networking, you need a plan. In this blog we’ll share the top networking tips that returners can use to get back to work and show you how to use both online and in-person scenarios to make a lasting impression.
From dedicated networking sites like LinkedIn to digital events like webinars, there are multiple online platforms that you can successfully use to reach out and build your contact base.
LinkedIn should be the first port of call for all business professionals. With 49 million people using LinkedIn to look for jobs each week, it’s the best place for returners to start networking. A few things to bear in mind beforehand:
Reach out to your old contacts
It’s always worthwhile to keep in touch with your co-workers even after you’ve moved on to a different place. Having connections within your industry is very useful because they’re most likely to know of any new roles or business opportunities. In some cases, these contacts are the ones who post about #hiring in their departments or the company. If you’re not in touch with old colleagues, reach out to them now.
Remember, the purpose of your initial contact is only to touch base and then build rapport from there. Unless you see that the person has recently posted about a role that you’re interested in, don’t write to ask about job opportunities straight off the bat. This can be off-putting and the person will know that the only reason you’re engaging with them is to get something.
Instead, keep your initial interactions more generic. Since you may be engaging with them after a gap of sometime, it’s important to establish a level of comfort first. Sending a personal message is a great start. In fact, over 35% of LinkedIn users say that a casual conversation on LinkedIn Messaging led to a new job opportunity.
Allow your contacts time to respond
This is true for your existing contacts but even more so for a new connection. If you’ve reached out to someone, allow them time to get back to you before writing again. Remember business professionals like hiring managers are busy and get multiple in-mails everyday. So, if they haven’t responded to your message the same day, it’s probably because they didn’t get around to it. Give it a week before following up.
Networking at Virtual Events
The popularity of digital events like webinars has boomed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These events hosted on platforms like Zoom provide the advantage of geo-flexibility so you can join in from anywhere in the world. Online networking events have certain restrictions. For example – you have limited time to introduce yourself and talk to the right people.
The way to optimise networking opportunities at online events is to:
- Know your goals
It’s important to identify what you want to get out of these events. This will guide your interactions. For example – these sessions typically include webinars on topics ranging from how to set up your LinkedIn page to guidance on joining a Returners programme to get back to work. Not every session is for you. Identify the webinars you’re actually interested in and could get value from and concentrate on those.
- Prepare a 30-second introduction
Many online webinars include an interactive session where the speaker asks you to introduce yourself. For this and any other instances where you might get a chance to speak, it’s good to have a brief pitch ready. Your ‘pitch’ describes what you do and where you want to go from here. Remember to keep it short and to the point. If you’re nervous about speaking in front of people, consider practising your intro before the event. Share an interesting fact about yourself. Whilst it’s great to mention your professional accomplishments (e.g. I’m an experienced digital marketer with 12 years’ experience. I’ve implemented SEO campaigns that helped my last company XYZ to increase their organic search 25% YoY and grew revenue 12% YoY), chances are people have heard similar intros before. Several times.
A fun fact about yourself or an interesting story from your last job are likely to be more memorable than stats and figures. (e.g. I speak six languages including French and German. This is going to be useful if I have to liaise with European businesses or clients who speak the language)
- Arrange follow-ups
Since online events are time bound, you won’t get time for any in-depth interactions. For this you should arrange follow-ups with anyone who you’d like to chat to more. Consider sending a personal message or email. E.g. Hi XYZ, I really enjoyed your session and found your tips on how to use transferrable skills very useful. I’d love to catch up with you for a quick chat. Are you available any time next week?
This shows your interest but also allows the person time to respond to you.
There’s a reason why this is #1 on the list under in-person networking tips. It might be tempting to hand out your business card or CV to everyone you meet at a networking event. But the point of networking is to build connections with people. You need to be able to read the room. For example – at a fundraiser or a social event, it’s not a good idea to even talk of work. The first step in networking is meeting people and listening. This is what builds relationships and your network of contacts.
Work the Room
If you’re looking to get back to work after a break, it’s a good idea to try and meet as many as you can at a networking event. If you’re nervous about meeting new people, try spotting someone who’s by themselves. Chances are they’re nervous too and will be more receptive. But remember, it’s not a good idea to spend the whole time talking with just one person. The idea is to grow your network so work the room and talk to lots of people. Plus, the more people you approach, the more confident you’ll get at talking to people and this will reflect on your body language and overall attitude.
Prep for the Event
It’s always handy to prepare a few conversation starters beforehand to help break the ice. If you’re at an event where you want to network with the speakers, do some background research on them to find talking points that you can discuss after their speech.
Networking is a two-way street. You need to nurture your new and existing connections. Remember to follow up with new contacts after an event. Perhaps share some relevant industry news articles with them on LinkedIn. Or if you share a common interest in yoga and well-being, tag them in a post about related content.
Keep at It
Networking is an on-going process. You can’t expect to go to one event or attend one webinar and expect to have a job offer the next day! But, the more events you attend, the more people you meet. Any one of those people might be able to open several doors for you.
Planning a return to work can seem daunting especially after a career break. Networking and optimising all your business contacts can really help you get back in the game. Remember to stay relevant and on people’s radars. Make a habit of regularly posting online. It doesn’t have to be an original post. You could share an interesting article or video that you liked. Also, it doesn’t all have to be cut and dried business news. Everyone likes a laugh so a funny quote or meme works really well. Just make sure that the content you post isn’t offensive.
Here are some more useful resources if you’re considering going back to work:
- Tips on Returning to Work after Caring Duties
- Hot to Face the Return to the Office
- 4 Tips to Explain Employment Gaps in your CV
- Retraining at 40
- Childcare Options to Consider as you plan a return to work
Check out the FDM Returners Programme to see how our training programmes can help you get back to work.