Women Seeking Jobs: What Does "Networking" REALLY Mean, and How Can I Do It?
Networking is one of those business-oriented terms that has been around for many, many years, and in fact means nothing more than getting the most out of the connections you have, both personal and professional. However, the key, of course, comes in the phrase "getting the most out of," because this can mean different things in different situations, and just how to get the most out of one's connections is a skill that requires finesse, experience, know-how, and not a small amount of intuition.
First, let's discuss one's social connections. If you are looking for work, tell everyone you know! Tell your friends, your neighbors, your acquaintances, the people with whom you wait for the bus -- everyone. Everyone except, that is, co-workers if you currently have a job and are looking for another one (although we will return to that later, because there is a place for such a thing). Be specific when you discuss your dream job, and always be confident in expressing your qualifications for this job. You truly never know who has a first cousin who is a manager at a place of employment that would be perfect for you, or even who would be willing to write a critical letter of recommendation.
Second, think about the professional connections you have built up over the years, and, in fact, break this category down into two: work-related connections and academic ones. Think about past jobs, the people with whom you were close, the supervisor who thought you could do no wrong. These are people to reach out to, to give a call and let them know you are looking for a new position. Don't ever be shy about this, and don't feel like you are taking advantage of people. After all, you will one day be in the same position to help others, if you haven't been already; this is one of the wonderful things about networking, is that it works both ways.
Returning to the issue of current co-workers, and even current supervisors -- well, if you are looking for a new position that would essentially amount to a promotion at your current place of work, then by all means, tell them. However, be very careful of potential competitors for the same job, as well as supervisors who like you so much that they would undermine your chances. It sounds cynical, and we would hope the world doesn't really work like that, but unfortunately, such things happen.
In terms of academic connections -- well, if you've gone to school as part of preparing for your current or future career, surely there was a teacher there with whom you got along, one who probably has contacts in the business world. At the very least, he or she would be able to assist you in your job search. Interviewing techniques, ways to write an excellent resume and cover letter, even knowing where to look for your job -- these are all things your academic mentors should be able to assist you with. Also don't forget university career centers; even long after you've graduated, you still have the right to visit the centers, check out the boards, and even talk with the advisors there to see what advice they have and what "inside" jobs they might know about.
It is hard to overestimate just how powerful networking can be as a tool for job-seeking. Just remember to be assertive (not aggressive), never desperate, always confident, and as cheerfully extroverted as possible -- even if this doesn't land you the perfect job, at least it will help you feel less isolated as you hunt.