Can you really network your way into that dream job? This is one of the most common questions I get asked by my career coaching clients. And my response is always a resounding YES!!

Indeed, the proof is in the pudding. Around 30 per cent of the lawyers I’ve supported via my outplacement and career coaching programmes have secured new roles through networking and significantly more have got help with researching organisations, salary negotiation, application and interview tips as well as reality checking and of course emotional support. And that includes those individuals who either told me that they have no noteworthy contacts or are terrible at networking.

So how can you harness your network to help you get your foot in the door? Below are my top five tips on how to use networking to secure a new role or plan a change in career direction.

Don’t ask for a job

Firstly, networking in the context of job search techniques shouldn’t be limited to openly asking your contacts for a job or interview as this can be off-putting. Your approach should be a little more subtle – simply tell your contacts that you’re actively looking for a new role and would appreciate them letting you know about any potential opportunities. Incidentally, many trainee solicitors and junior associates I work with assume that this approach only works with senior contacts. This is not the case at all. A number of trainees on my employer-funded career transitioning programme have found out about external newly qualified solicitor roles via their former law school buddies who are training at other law firms. And even better they have then made their applications through that friend, which is often a win-win. The friend will hopefully put in a good word and if you accept an offer they may well be in for a referral bonus.

Use your existing contacts as bridges

Secondly, use your existing contacts as bridges by asking them to introduce you to new people as this will definitely enhance your chances of getting a positive reply. For example, I am much more likely to offer my help to an individual who has been referred or recommended to me over someone who has contacted me completely out of the blue.

Make LinkedIn your new best friend

Thirdly, use LinkedIn to reach out to former colleagues and clients. Social media is a life-saver for introverts and connecting through social media may be viewed as less intrusive than sending an unsolicited message to someone’s work email (assuming you can get hold of the address!). But remember to include a short personal message when sending a connection request because having a common link/connection for instance will increase your chances of getting your request accepted. You can then send a more detailed message suggesting a call or coffee. That said, keep messages relatively short and punchy and remember to keep it time sensitive. An open-ended coffee invite will not receive attention as quickly as a request to meet at some point next month. Also, don’t be afraid to send a gentle reminder if you don’eget a response within a week.

Don’t be greedy

Fourthly, once you’d pulled together a list of all the people you know (and I really do mean everyone from your current colleagues through to your friends’ parents or even your dentist etc) then have a careful think about how each of them can help? For example, if you’re considering a change in career then some of your contacts should be able to help with informational interviews (I’ll be publishing a separate blog post on this topic so watch this space). Although, audacity should not to be frowned upon (after all, if you don’t ask you don’t get and frankly what’s the worst that will happen – your message will get ignored) two simple questions I always ask myself when requesting favours from my contacts are: (1) based on the length and quality of my relationship with my contact, their seniority and background is my favour reasonable; and (2) what’s in it for the favour doer? And since we’re on the subject of greed remember networking is two-way so think about how you can return favours. And if nothing else always remember to send a thank you message to anyone who has offered help or advice.

Use advice with caution

Finally, most reasonable people you approach will want to help and offer advice. But although well-intended I recommend treating some advice with caution because often people are sharing their personal opinions, which in some instances are completely incorrect or out of date. So when you are gathering information to help prepare for an interview or to decide between two different options it’s important to fact check what others have told you by asking for evidence or by using multiple sources.

Remember networking really is as simple as starting a conversation and getting to know people. This is especially important because when it comes to job hunting it’s not always what you know but who you know.

By Husnara Begum, Associate Career Coach & Contributing Editor