Anyone who is looking for a job has probably heard that most open positions are not advertised in traditional ways and the key to any successful job search is “networking”. After all, we’re told, “people hire people they know, or people who are referred to them by people they know.” So networking carries a lot of weight in today’s job search strategies.
But, what does that really mean? I’ll bet that everyone has their own assumptions about it, but I’m also sure that most versions come up short in their ultimate impact and effectiveness. At Heart At Work Associates, we encourage our clients to “network” in the best way that suits their personalities. We do stress that networking is a process, not an event; and that there are some critical factors you must follow however you decide to network.
First you must build relationships. Relationships need to be reciprocal. That is, you need to be prepared to give as well as take. In fact, giving assistance is more important than receiving it. Be prepared to help new people you meet in your networking, rather than ask for help from the start.
Second, relationships need to be nurtured. That means that you don’t just connect with someone new, obtain their business card, and move on. You need to engage them and follow up. Check in with your new contact on a regular basis. Send out an personal email once a quarter or so, checking in on their progress and offer any help you can provide.
Third, don’t just “network” when you need a job or when you need help from your contacts. If you do, your effort will be viewed as entirely one-sided.
In the “what not to do when you’re networking” category, I’ll recount a recent experience at a professional gathering.
The first person I met was a young woman who introduced herself as a life coach (but it could have been any occupation). When I asked her to explain (hoping for a description of her target client or how she approached her work), her response was a rote sounding “elevator speech”. Her lack of strategy was evident when she didn’t even ask about my work!
I came away from the one-way interaction unclear about what she actually offered and was turned off by her lack of spontaneity and interest in me.
Whether the person across from you is a stranger or a longtime colleague, effective networking involves a two-way conversation. When done well, networking blends attentive listening with appropriate questions.
When you make the conversation more about the other person than about you, you’re more apt to engage the person you’ve just met.
We’ve all been “taken hostage” by someone who drones on about himself or laments about the difficult time they’re having finding a job. Don’t follow their example.
Be aware of what you’re doing and saying and notice the body language of the person with whom you’re speaking. You’ll see if you are boring them and if so, move on or shift the topic back to them.
Be strategic when you network! Think about the particular networking opportunity beforehand—imagine why others are attending and create relevant questions that will engage people in a conversation.
Meaningful connections are memorable in a positive way—just the impression you want to cultivate in your job search.