Getting a job is always about who you know. With unemployment still at high levels, even those who are employed sometimes feel uncertain in their position. Since sending resumes online is akin to sending it into a black hole, you need to network to reach your next job. And if you’re not careful, that can bust a hole in your budget.
Luckily, you don’t need to shell out a lot of money to make new connections and develop professional contacts in your field. Here are a few tips on how to make connections and network on a budget:
Informational interviews are a great way to make connections in your industry and get to know what you’re getting into. In a job interview, the employer is interviewing you to see if you’re a good fit. An informational interview reverses that so you are in the driver’s seat, interviewing the company or the position to see if it’s a good fit.
Ask your friends and family if they know of people who are doing the job you want or work at a company you are interested in, and ask them for coffee. If all else fails, send a message through LinkedIn. You’d be surprised at how many people will say yes to a coffee date. For the price of a coffee, you might get leads, make connections, and most importantly, find out more information about the company or position you are applying for. That kind of information is gold when it comes to job interviews because it means you’ve really done your research.
Keep in mind that informational interviews may not necessarily lead to job interviews, but if you are looking, they are a great way to build up confidence and practice your interviewing skills. The number one rule is to not ask for a job during the informational interview itself. Keep it strictly informational.
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No matter what your industry, there’s bound to be events set up expressly for people to make connections or engage in professional development off the clock. Look for events on Meetup.com or on the website of your industry’s trade association. In big cities, meetup groups based on common professions are quite common. And in a smaller town or city, you just might get lucky to find a group that suits you (or perhaps you could drive a short ways to find one in a nearby city). Many of these meetups and mixers will be free or have a very small fee. It’s the perfect way to make connections without having to spend much. Best of all, depending on your field, these networking events will often come with free food and beverages.
Present at conferences
Do you want to go to conferences, but are scared off by the high cost of entry? First of all, if you’re working, see if your company will cover the cost.
If not, the best way you can attend the conference is to present on your topic of expertise or volunteer to help with putting on the event. Some conferences will cover the cost of registration and attendance for speakers or volunteers, though most will not cover travel and hotel costs. Research what kind of industry events are happening in your town, and see if there are opportunities for you to speak.
Being a speaker also has additional value. Presenting establishes you as an expert in your field. You’re guaranteed to meet people, as they’ll want to interact with you after the presentation. And it helps you develop your public speaking skills.
Become a thought leader
Being a thought leader in your field is definitely a way to network that has high rewards. And while it usually takes a long time and considerable dedication, it might be more accessible than you think.
Even if you aren’t a “big name” in your field, you could still be someone that others gain knowledge and insight from. Heck, you might think you have nothing to offer but once you start talking to people with an interest in what you do, you might realize that you can be more helpful than you realized. One way to test the waters is by starting a blog and writing about your own industry from your unique perspective. This obviously only works in certain industries, but it’s worth mentioning. You might also be able to spark connections by commenting on people’s blogs or writing a response to something they’ve written.
Whatever strategy you take towards building professional connections, use the advice in this post to inform your efforts and help you save money while you’re networking. No matter what your professional goals may bet, it’s not going to help you to jeopardize your financial goals in order to build your network.
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