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Networking etiquette: respecting your professional contacts

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A professional network is indispensable when you’re looking for a job. Your contacts can suggest promising leads or put you in touch with firms that are hiring. They may provide you with first-hand information about a company or give you the name of a staff member they know. In some cases, someone in your network might even be able to help set up a meeting with a hiring manager. At the very least, your contacts can provide encouragement.

But this doesn’t mean your network is an inexhaustible gold mine that exists solely for your use and benefit. Following are some right and wrong ways to tap your contacts during a job search.

Target your approach
While it’s important to tell everyone in your network you’re seeking employment to get the most job leads possible, focus on people who could offer the most help for you. For example, you should first concentrate on those in your profession, since they’ll have relevant information about the hiring climate. You should also talk to individuals who work for companies where you’ve submitted your resume.
Before you make a call or send an email message, take a moment to clarify what you want most from your contacts. Are you looking for a specific job? Do you need help arranging a meeting with a prospective employer? Do you want them to pass your resume on to their contacts? Make sure your request is not only specific but also reasonable. For example, if your contact is not executive-level, he or she may not be in a position to provide an introduction to the head of the company.

Don’t abuse your network
There are certain things you can reasonably anticipate from your contacts, such as professionalism and courtesy. And there are a few things you should not expect. These include:

  • An immediate response to your request for assistance
  • Countless hours of their time
  • Use of a contact’s name as a door-opener without his or her permission

Most of your contacts will try to be helpful, but this doesn’t mean you should take advantage of their generosity. If someone promises to get back to you, don’t pressure him with repeat calls.
Keep in mind that, although your job search is a top priority for you, it doesn’t rank quite that high for those in your network. They have multiple and competing demands on their time. Your voice- or email message is likely one of many.

Make networking two-way
Networking should benefit both parties. Therefore, you should be prepared to give as well as receive. This can be as simple as saying to a contact, “Thank you so much for your help. Please call me if there’s ever anything I can do to repay the favour.”

You don’t have to wait to reciprocate.
For example, you could email a pertinent article with a short note (“Thought you might find this interesting”), or offer to introduce your contact to other professionals in your network. If a contact really goes out of her way to help, consider treating her to a celebration lunch when you do land a job.

Keep in regular contact with members of your network. You’ll become familiar with their interests and better able to help when it’s your turn to be someone else’s career resource.

By observing these simple rules of networking etiquette, you’ll avoid alienating your contacts while ultimately strengthening your professional connections.

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