Wednesday, February 10, 2010

5 Ways to Avoid Freaking Out About Networking

Hear that? That growling noise? That's the sound of dozens of career experts venting their frustrations over how many job seekers still refuse to accept they must network if they want to find a job. Career bloggers are ranting about how the unemployed still spend most of their time looking at job boards instead of making contacts, and it's not getting any better. That's what prompted my interest in this story on networking -- the fact that so many job seekers seem to keep ignoring the advice. Here's the story I did for Gannett:

If you’re looking for work, it may be time to step away from the computer.

That’s because like many job seekers, you’re probably spending way too much time poring over job boards and sending resumes to cyber black holes that offer you little chance of finding a job.

Instead, it’s time to get on the phone or go out to lunch. In other words, it’s time to network, still the best way to land a job.

However, chances are good you’re going to balk at the suggestion. Networking for many people has the appeal of doing taxes or having an especially painful medical procedure.

“I think part of the problem is because people don’t feel at the top of their game when they’re looking for work. They’re afraid of looking needy and helpless to other people. And, they feel like it’s begging – especially if they haven’t been networking until now,” says
Liz Lynch, founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of “Smart Networking.”

According to research by
Upwardly Mobile Inc., an online career management service in Palo Alto, Calif., job seekers only talk, or e-mail, an average of eight people outside of their current organization on a monthly basis. Only 38 percent say they have asked for an introduction in the last month, and job seekers on average only have a network of 29 colleagues, which they define as peers they’ve interacted with in the last 18-24 months.

Such statistics, Lynch says, prove it’s time that those hunting for work must move past their doubts and inhibitions about networking if they want to find a job.

“I think the first thing these people need to realize is that others really do want to help them,” she says. “The second thing they need to realize is that they’ve got to be much more targeted and strategic about their networking.”

She suggests job seekers should:

• Attend events attended by others in your industry or field of interest. “If you attend a networking event with random people, it won’t help you. Then, you’ll just say that networking doesn’t work and you won’t do it again,” Lynch says.

• Be prepared. Always dress professionally when networking, refine your pitch on your capabilities and be ready to ask pertinent questions. “I think some people have this idea that they’re’ gong to network with someone and the person will say, ‘Oh, my gosh! I’ve been looking for you all my life!’ People don’t really have a job in their back pocket, but they can give you information that will help you in your search, such as what the hot-button issues are in the industry, or who might be hiring in the future.”

• Give back. It can be uncomfortable and awkward to just call and ask someone for a job lead, so instead ask a question like: “I’ve been thinking of going in this direction with my job search, and I’d like to get your thoughts.” Lynch says it also can help ease your discomfort by then offering something in return, such as saying, “Is there anything I can do for you?” To maintain the connection, send the person articles or information you think they might find of value.

• Avoid over-using social networking. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great for keeping tabs on your contacts, but nothing beats a face-to-face conversation for making strong connections. “Use your social networks to do advance research when you’re going to meet someone, but remember you can make a much better impression in person,” she says.

• Keep the networking muscle in use. It’s estimated college graduates will change jobs nearly a dozen times in their careers, and networks will remain critical. “Often, your discomfort with networking goes away when you’ve got a job, so that’s a great time to work on your connections,” Lynch says. “Take the time once a week or even once a month to ask someone from your company or another connection to go to lunch. By the end of the year, you will really have expanded your network.”


Scot Herrick said...

Nothing will help you find another job or protect your career more than having a monster business network. It is THE most underutilized skill of professionals out there.

But, you have to work to build the network, help the people in it and manage it to get it really effective.

Most people won't do that. That's the rub.

Anita said...

Excellent point. You have to be willing to put the "work" into "network"!

FrauTech said...

I don't know, I'm one of those doubtful people that wouldn't suddenly start "networking" were i looking for a job. Getting out there and seeing people in person helps yes, but how many people actually got a job through "networking"? I'm going to bet it's a small number.

I think the word is misused. It's important to have a network and keep in contact with your old colleagues and coworkers, and let them know when you are job hunting. But if you're an old colleague of mine, asking to have coffee with me isn't going to get you a job even if I wanted to get you a job. It's all about who you know. And if who you know are a bunch of low level people with no influence, "networking" isn't going to get you there. Staying on friendly terms with former bosses; yes. "Networking" by running around and spending money on coffee; no.

Anita said...

I think I understand that what you're saying is that you need to be sure of why you're networking with that person, and not just to have coffee and say, "There! I just networked!" That kind of approach is like applying to huge job boards...chances of success aren't high.
Still, every time you meet with someone and can promote your skills, you should look at it as a good chance to hone your personal brand and become more skilled as selling yourself. That's not necessarily a waste of time, in my book.

Rick Saia said...

I echo what Scot says. The "golden rule" really applies here: "Do unto others as they would do unto you." But give more than you expect to receive. That will increase your visibility within the network and make more people willing to help you.

One way to boost that visibility? Take on a leadership role within a networking group. (You might even enhance an old skill or pick up a new one in the process.)

Anita said...

I love your suggestion about taking on a leadership role...a really concrete way to strengthen your network.
Thanks for your comments!

Unknown said...

I think this skill needs to learned young. School leavers and graduates who are comfortable with social networking should transfer this to developing a work related network and parents should encourage this. In tight markets, the kids with the networks win! check out for great career advice

Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers said...

My experience is that job seeking clients resist networking - and look back to regret it. I have a client who landed his dream job - out of the blue - as a result of his LinkedIn profile. He had worked in one company for 30 years and told me that he had never considered trying to know people outside that organization; it was his life.

Never again, though! He is now actively planning his next move and outlining his online AND in-person networking to keep moving forward.

While I agree that getting out from behind the computer is important, I would also add that many underestimate the strong connections they can build via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. People are surprisingly generous via these networks. I recommend my clients invest time and effort in these tools in addition to their in-person efforts.

The great thing is when online connections can lead to in-person meetings. Job seekers should pay attention to geographical tags and search for local contacts to help make in-person meetings a reality!

Anita said...

I think you're media should be part of a networking strategy. I, myself, have landed work via social networking. Let's just make sure it's not the ONLY networking that gets done! Thanks for sharing your story.

David Benjamin said...

Long time no comment.

There is no question that networking for job seekers is more important than ever.

Once candidates get over the 'embarrassed' to ask for help phase they'll start having more success.

The big problem as I see it is for those that aren't marketable i.e, not polished or skilled enough compared to the competition. The focus needs to then be both on networking AND improving their skills or learning a new one.

Anita said...

Well, let me just say you've been missed. :)
As you note, just reaching out and learning to communicate can be a big help for those who need it most. A win-win as they like to say!