As we have marked the first graduation of Career Bootcamp program yesterday, let me share some thoughts on how professional networking can maximise your chances of getting hired.

Numerous studies confirm the fact that job boards and websites are in a losing battle against getting hired through referrals. Various research points to only 15 to 20% of hires happening through direct job postings while referrals are the cause for at least twice as much hires, becoming the hiring source #1 for a majority of the companies. Moreover, referral hires have greater job satisfaction and stay in companies longer.

If you are looking for new career opportunities, getting hired through a referral should already be a part of your employment strategy. And this means polishing your networking skills.

Here is what a good networking strategy for career purposes would look like:

1) First and foremost – get your own positioning/branding straight in your head. That means understanding your specific professional value proposition and outlining your area of expertise. In other words, you should understand clearly which problem domain (as explained further in the text) you are solving.

Networking (professional or social) is a tool. It can propel you in the direction you are branding yourself in, and if you are still unsure of what you are up to or if your brand has faults – you will not only have a lack of results, you could get negative feedback. So getting this first step right is crucially important before going into the “tips” section.

2) Have a list of prospective companies you can potentially cooperate professionally with and find out the names of major decision makers. Make sure you understand their business, their strategy, and major challenges. Make sure you understand what kind of impact your experience could have on their major challenges (i.e. affect their business – critical KPIs). Research first-degree partner companies of the ones you target and have a list of those as well. If you can’t approach the companies you are targeting directly, partner referrals will still be a major help.

3) Start a project/write a paper, thus making an impact within your problem domain. Make this your side-project, showing your passion and dedication to the problem.

4) Get decision makers to find out about you using the following methods:

  1. Start a blog on your problem domain (including insights on your project/paper/experience)
  2. Become a part of professional communities on your problem domain (conferences, seminars, meetups). Ideally, arrange a speaking opportunity for these communities on the subject of your project/paper/experience
  3. Start a professional community on your problem domain yourself
  4. Involve yourself into problem domain discussions (Facebook and LinkedIn groups, Quora, etc.)
  5. Start searching for common connections within prospective companies and their first-degree partners

5) Find opportunities to pitch your project/paper/experience in front of decision makers in prospective companies. This can be done in many different ways, including but not limited to:

  • interviewing them for a video/blog post
  • buying them lunch and asking for advice related to your project/paper, etc.

In other words, avoid making this pitch look like a job interview and make it more of a casual getting-to-know-you meeting. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually not that difficult to get high-level corporate people to agree to a meeting like this. There is always a shortage of people who passionately and proactively dedicate their time to growing their skills in a specific problem domain, so if you can show your energy and passion – you are half-way to your goal. Do not set a goal expecting to get hired after this kind of a pitch. Instead, make this a base for a long-term relationship which, if properly managed, will become strong and get you the benefits you want.

6) Develop yourself as a generally interesting person to hang out with – learn social skills, enjoy new experiences. Have a hobby aside from your profession, something that you are very passionate about, something that compliments your professional side, something that can help you meet a lot of new people. When building a network of connections, the strongest and most valuable connections are often the ones build on a casual basis.

7) Have fun along the way.