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Networking Letters 101

No matter what field you're in, a successful career is built on human relationships. Your job search will be much more effective if you connect with and expand your network of contacts, rather than just respond to job ads. Thousands of positions are created and filled without ever being advertised, and a networking letter will help you uncover these hidden job opportunities.

A networking letter reaches out to friends, friends of friends and professional contacts and asks for job leads, career advice, referrals and introductions. The letter's focus is not to ask your contacts for a job, but to request their assistance in your job search by connecting you with people or opportunities.

Who to Target?

To tap into your network and create job leads, consider all these sources: friends, your spouse or significant other's friends, current or former coworkers and supervisors, associations (alumni, civic and professional organizations), clergy, nonprofit organizations, customers/clients, vendors, teachers and classmates.

You may even consider distant acquaintances as part of your networking campaign -- someone you met at a lecture, trade show or seminar might be willing to assist you.

The Fundamentals

Be Friendly: The tone of a networking letter is casual and professional. If you don't know the person well or it's been awhile since you last spoke, refresh his memory in the first paragraph:

Dear Mr. Jones:

I attended your "Effective Merchandising Techniques" presentation last Friday and introduced myself to you following your lecture. Your speech was very informative, and your examples were extremely enlightening; I left with a number of new ideas.

If you know the person you are writing to well, you should punctuate your opening with a comma instead of a colon for a warmer, less formal tone:

Dear Ginger,

I am in the process of a job change following my former employer's Chapter 11 filing. I am writing to college friends whose opinions, insights and advice I value.

Have a Message: To be effective, a networking letter must do more than communicate that you are job searching. It needs to provide a brief summary of the key strengths you bring to the table and include a few examples of ways you benefited your employers -- such as saving money, generating revenue, increasing efficiency and improving service.

Respect the Reader's Time: Be concise. Your reader is busy and is doing you a favor -- don't drone on and on. This is not the place to complain about your employment circumstances. You don't want sympathy; you want job leads. Be positive and upbeat in your letter, appeal for the reader's help, showcase your strengths and express your thanks.

Ask for Leads and Information: Don't be afraid to ask for help. Here's an example:

Thank you for your reviewing my enclosed resume. If you know of anyone who might be looking for someone with my background, please contact me at (555) 555-5555. Or if you have any suggestions as to where I should direct my search, I would very much appreciate your input and advice.

Keep Networking: Keep in touch with your network of contacts, even when you are not searching for a job. If someone has helped you, express your gratitude and return the favor if possible. Your diligence in using networking letters will pay off in your current and future job search.

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