Hello Toronto! Building a professional network from scratch

Toronto job search

Join host Sheelagh Caygill as she explores the obvious - and less obvious - trends and influences in communications, PR, and marketing. Also explored are writing and upping your game as a creator of prose. In this essential listen, she interviews senior comms pros and thought leaders to reveal insights you can incorporate into your work.

While you’re here listen to one of our podcast interview with Kim Scaravelli on using social media to get more traction.

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There is nothing quite like a move to a new city to remind us of just how dependent on other human beings we are. And building a professional network is another reminder.

We may see ourselves as resilient, mature, and strong individuals, but relocating to a different place far from home reminds us of how much we need other people.

In fact, that’s why a move is close to the top of the list of major stressful life events. Like welcoming a new child, getting married, or grieving the loss of a close friend or even a parent – moving is a very big deal.

We need our friends for support on the journey, and we need new people in our lives to network, particularly if one of the reasons for the move has been to find work.

I arrived in Toronto from Edmonton on Oct. 8 this year with no job and no professional network. I have a handful of friends in the city and further afield in Southern Ontario. But that’s all.

Tips for building a professional network

So how do you begin networking when you don’t know a soul in your industry and want to start working? Here are some actionable tips, and if you have any suggestions or ideas please add them in the comments.

1. Contact network members from your old home town or city and ask if they have any contacts in your new city that they would be willing to share. Reach out to these new contacts and be clear in what you are looking for. In my case, I am looking for career opportunities and to grow my network.

2. Professional associations are a great place to start. I am a member of the International Association of Business Communicators’ local chapter, IABC Toronto, and the local chapter of the Canadian Public Relations Society, CPRS Toronto. I have reached out to board members as well as other members of these associations, and gone to networking events. I’ve also submitted an application to volunteer for IABC Toronto.

Be proactive with new contacts

3. Be observant and keep your eyes open for obvious networking opportunities. Not long after arriving I saw that IABC member Linda Andross of APEX Public Relations received the Master Communicator of the Year Award. I contacted Linda and she was happy to meet with me for an hour or so and talk about her agency, the city, opportunities, IABC, and more.

Interestingly, Linda noted that while she receives lots of resumes by email, I was the first person who asked to meet with her. It pays to be proactive.

4. Learn as much as you can about how job applications are processed in your industry. Jagreet Sandhu, Executive Vice President with IABC Toronto, was really helpful by sharing her recruitment experience and talking about the applicant tracking software which some large firms use to scan applicant resumes. These systems make the recruitment process more challenging for job applicants, and a whole new style of resume is required to pass through ATSs.

Understand applicant tracking processes

5. On the above point, there are online businesses that will scan your resume for you to see how well it will perform with applicant tracking systems. One such business is the start-up jobgator.io, and I will be publishing an interview the founder/CEO of jobgator.io, Benjamin Gelb, on CommunicateInfluence.com very soon.

6. After you’ve connected with your professional associations, search out the many groups and organizations for professionals in your community, such as professional networking Meetups, and networking events listed on Eventbrite.

7. Seek out alumni groups and go to their local events. Make contact with members you think might be able to connect you to others or offer some advice.

8. You may feel uncomfortable networking when you are looking for work. But the truth is, you have an agenda and most people understand that and will be responsive if you are respectful and show gratitude for their time.

Use your network for more than your job hunt

9. Always remember that you are networking to build a solid, long-term network, not solely to find a job.

Networks are a two-way street; they only work well when everyone is supporting the network and giving to others. So be sure to let your new new contacts that you are there for them, and encourage them to contact you if they have any questions about projects they are working on, or for ideas or support.

10. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, show interest in people and be genuinely curious about who they are and what they are doing with their lives. Authenticity and graciousness will carry you far in life. Fiona Fenwick writes a lot about this in her new book Stand Out and Step Up. In my view, it’s a necessary read, regardless of where you’re at in your career.

11. Some people won’t respond to your unsolicited messages. Don’t be discouraged and certainly don’t take it personally. This is simply part of the experience. Focus your energy on those who do respond.

Relocating is a journey in itself

Remember I said moving is a big deal? Don’t forget that. One minute you’re excited about your new city and all its possibilities, and then next day a rejection email along with a heavy cold and a bit of fatigue can dampen your mood.

Be kind to yourself. It takes time to adjust. Yes, be focused and structured with your job search, but remember to take time to have fun, meet people, and explore your new neighbourhoods.

If you feel low, reach out to the people who care about you and tell them how you feel. I did this earlier in the week and received an inspiring phone call from my best friend Cathy Lord.

I also emailed Fiona Fenwick – one of my first employers in the U.K. and now a friend – and she replied with an uplifting and motivating email which helped me refocus, get back on track, and begin anew.

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