If you’re looking for a job, chances are that someone, somewhere, will tell you that you need to “network.” While there's absolutely nothing wrong with networking, that term conjures up the unfortunate mental image of going to a college alumni event, wearing a nametag, and holding a cheap glass of white wine in your hand while trying to strike up awkward conversations with a perfect stranger with their own name-tag and security beverage. Doesn't sound very appealing, does it?
Fortunately, there are ways to network right from the comfort of your own couch.
Today, there are entire social networks geared toward helping people develop professional connections. Just take LinkedIn — the platform is currently 830 million members strong! And it's not the only resource to support you as you develop your career. Here are five ways to leverage platforms like LinkedIn to nurture your professional network.
When people say they got a job “through someone they knew,” most of the time, they're not being entirely literal. In other words, it’s not usually your first-degree connections that hire you. After all, those people are your aunt or uncle, a friend from college, or a family acquaintance. However, it’s not uncommon for your personal network to be connected to someone else that is going to make a hire. Reach out to people in your personal network, via LinkedIn, email, or other platforms, to tell them you’re looking for a job and would like to meet smart, connected people they know who might have the advice to give you.
If you’re focused on a specific industry or job role that you’re breaking into, you can be more specific and ask for introductions to people who will share a bit about their career path with you. It’s more natural and easier to break the ice to get someone to take a meeting to share knowledge with you rather than set something up for the purpose of directly asking them to help you get a job.
You can use Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook here. Practically any employer you can imagine has a presence on social media and understands that they will attract candidates through these channels. You can comment, like, retweet and share content in order to “build a social media relationship” with your target connections. Be aware, however, that maintaining a passive presence probably isn't enough to grab their attention. Don't be afraid to reach out directly to people you admire — it could get you far. Mention an article you read by them that inspired you or something you saw in the news about the company.
If your list is long (and ambitious) enough, and you have quality interactions, you will be surprised at both (a) how much you will learn about your prospective job, industry, and employer but also (b) how one day someone will respond to your Direct Message/Inmail/Comment about a job opening that you are interested or an idea you have for the company’s business.
It might sound exhausting to add another “to do” to your plate while you’re already busy enough trying to get hired. But sometimes the most effective path to a goal is not linear.
Leverage your new social media relationships and newly developed acquaintances to suggest connections for others. They're doing you a favor by spending time thinking about your job needs or reading your social media content. Pay it forward by giving them ideas or new people to get to know (or follow, if this is a virtual relationship). This also makes it more likely that you and your needs (a new job) stay more top-of-mind in a couple of weeks when the memory of your last coffee meeting has faded into the background. You want to stay relevant and one way to expand your relevance is to bring new people — followers, connections, resources, etc. — into these people’s lives.
It may sound obvious, but nobody is a mind reader. If you’re using your personal network and social media to get your next job, that means you should not be dropping hints or beating around the bush. Tell your friends, family, ex-colleagues, and reasonably familiar acquaintances that you are looking for a job. Send them an email with the words “I’m looking for a new job” written clearly and at the beginning of the note. And tell them again if you need to remind them over coffee or lunch! As difficult as it may be for those of you who instinctively hold things close to the vest, this is no situation for shyness or subtlety.
Fortunately, there are ways to do this online without even having to put in much effort. Toggle the "open to work" option on LinkedIn — while still being actively vocal.
If you’re about to land the job you’ve been wanting (or even a stop-gap, temporary gig while you keep looking for “the one”), don’t think that all the new relationships and social media effort goes on ice.
Getting a job seems like a short-term goal, but career building is a life-long journey. You never know when the next opportunity is going to come your way, and you don’t want to wait until you’re absolutely in a bind to start up that old engine again. Think of these efforts as a fitness routine for your career. You would never quite let things go entirely, even if you’ve hit a short-term weight loss goal, so why stop cold turkey when it comes to your career?
A version of this article was originally published on Elle.com