Networking has been going on for centuries. Throughout history, people have relied on people they know for information and referrals. That is how we find good doctors, auto mechanics, restaurants and all kinds of goods and services. We have been networking all our lives without putting a label on the process.

If you are going to be successful in your job search, and land actual interviews, you will need to extend the networking concept one step further. You will need to develop a targeted strategy to open up opportunities and put you in touch with potential employers. Whether you are currently employed or looking for work, the process is essentially the same.

One of the most important elements in networking is to expand your sphere of influence. Your sphere of influence can be your demonstrated areas of expertise. Too many people find themselves out of work because they have let themselves get trapped on too narrow a career track. You need to be able to spot opportunities and network with people who can help you move in any direction to achieve your career goals.

Once you have identified your networking contacts and made appointments, here are some tips on how to conduct an effective networking meeting:

• Establish rapport with the person you are meeting with and let them know that you appreciate their taking the time to meet with you.

• Define the purpose and objectives of your meeting.

• Briefly describe your skills, background and experience.

• Be straightforward about the fact that you are in the job market.

• Talk briefly about the actions you have already taken in your job search.

• Ask for suggestions of other options to consider.

• Ask for referrals and secure their endorsement.

• Thank them again for meeting with you.

• Follow-up on every lead in order to keep your network alive.

Get motivated now to become an effective networker. Remember, every contact that you make enhances your potential of finding the right job for yourself by increasing your chance of landing an interview.

The interview is the most important part of your job search. You need to approach it skillfully, confidently and enthusiastically. An interview is a meeting between two people — it is a two-way communication during which opportunities are identified for both you and your prospective employer. You need to be prepared to present yourself in the best possible light.

Here are some questions you should answer before every interview:

• Who will be interviewing me?

• What do I know about this position?

• What do I know about this interviewer?

• What specific skills / experience / qualifications are required for this position?

• What do I lack?

• How can I compensate for what I lack?

• Why does this particular position appeal to me?

• What questions should I ask during the interview?

The opening of the interview is when you capture the interviewer’s attention. Appropriate attire, grooming and behavior contribute to a positive first impression. You need to project a competent, professional image.

Let the interviewer know what you can do. Demonstrate how you can be of value to the organization by presenting your qualifications as they relate to the job. Give specific examples of how you have demonstrated your skills and try to link your skills to the prospective employer’s needs and interests.

During the interview, ask thoughtful questions that you have prepared ahead of time. In closing the interview, develop a strong ending that summarizes the strengths that you want the interviewer to remember. Thank the interviewer for their time and clarify the next steps in the process.

When the interview is over, critique your performance and think about what you did well or would like to have done differently. Follow-up every interview with a brief letter thanking the interviewer for their time.

Remember that thorough preparation is the important key to a successful interview. Do not try to wing-it. Planning and practice are what will position you as a top job candidate in today’s competitive marketplace.

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