How do I build my network when I am new to town?
I had two different conversations with people just this morning about out-of-town job searching, and another conversation on networking in general, so I wanted to address the idea of building your network from out of town or if you are new to town.
First and foremost, please stop spending all of your job search energy applying for jobs you find online. Most jobs are found through the human connection, and if you are spending all your career energy searching and applying online, you are playing with a deck that is stacked against you.
I get the frustration with this, though. There are three big things that come up when people think about building a network in a new place:
I don’t know anyone there/here, so I can’t network.
I am not physically able to be there to network with people, so it won’t work.
I feel like I’m asking people to give me a job.
Let’s address each one, because they are all important and all wrong. And then we will tackle how to get around the things underlying these concerns.
1. I don’t know anyone there/here, so I can’t network.
This implies that you think networking involves only communicating with people you already know. While maintaining your existing network does involve staying in touch with the people you already know, and activating your network in a job search can mean letting those people know what you are looking for in your next move, building your network doesn’t center around people you already know in the location you want to be.
If you are somewhere new and don’t know anyone but need to build a network, what do you do, then? Well, lots of things. Start with making a list of your associations, groups, connections, etc. You are probably the alumni of a school or two. You have probably been involved in some sort of group at some point or have a hobby or two – online gaming, improv, knitting, chunky cat appreciation, etc. Or you have things you have wanted to do, like volunteer for a museum or a homeless shelter or something. Make that list, and start to find those things in the new location. Introduce yourself to people there, make new friends, build a new community. If you don’t know people in your new town, make a concerted effort to meet people in your new town. It will have as much or more payoff on your job search as sitting at the laptop applying for job after job.
By the way, if that still feels weird or uncomfortable or two extrovert-y, you can ask people in your old towns if they know anyone near you that they can connect you to. Your friends want to help you, I promise, and many of us know people all over the place at this point. “But no one knows anyone in my tiny town.” Okay, but do they know someone in the nearest larger town? And then once you connect to that new person, maybe THEY know of a job in your town or know someone in your town. It takes time, it takes multiple steps, but it can absolutely be done.
2. I am not physically able to be there to network with people, so it won’t work.
This is an interesting one, too. You don’t have to physically be somewhere to build your network there or to connect to people there. We live in a global society now, and there are all kinds of ways to connect with people. Start by letting your trusted crew know that you are moving and would love to connect to people up in that new locale so you can get advice on the most interesting neighborhoods, local restaurants you have to try, cool employers you should definitely check out, etc. Your friends want to help! Just ask. You will be surprised by who has connections in your new place that you can reach out to online before you even get up there.
And if no one knows anyone in the place you are going, tap into those groups I mentioned in #1 again – alumni groups, volunteer communities, fellow Christmas light enthusiasts – whatever it may be.
3. I feel like I’m asking people to give me a job.
Well, you probably aren’t. And don’t creepily go, “Hello, person I just met, can you give me a job or know someone who will give me a job?” That’s not what networking is. You are building friendships and connecting with people. When they ask what you do, this is a good chance to go “well, I am currently a lawn chair designer, but I am really looking for a new opportunity in shark wrangling,” or whatever your personal story is. You don’t have to do more than that – just fill them in. They might know someone in the shark wrangling industry or someone in a similar field. They will probably keep their ears open for opportunities for you.
Or if you are being very strategic in your network building and having coffee with people in the industry you want to be in, you can let them know that you want to be doing what they are doing without explicitly asking for a job.
Make sure that you keep it un-creepy, though, by treating it like a fledgling friendship (because it is), and follow up with them. Don’t ghost your new friend.
Keep at it. Don’t let your “I can’t because…” stop you from moving forward on the easiest way to get to the thing you want. Meet new friends. And get that new job!