Working the room. Building relationships. Shamelessly self-promoting (hopefully we’re not doing that).
No matter what it’s called, networking is an essential piece of the job-search puzzle. But it’s more than just trying to balance a cup of coffee and a doughnut in one hand while shaking hands with the other at the local networking breakfast or fake-laughing at a potential boss’s lame jokes at a job fair.
“Networking is all about who likes you and who respects you,” says Claire Bloxom Armstrong, PR and social media manager at Concussion, an integrated marketing communications firm in Fort Worth, Texas. “There is a huge difference between knowing someone, or having someone know you, and having someone like you and respect you.”
Before working with you or referring you to someone else, a successful person is consciously or subconsciously asking himself, "Do I like and respect this person enough to put my reputation on the line by working with her or by introducing her to someone I trust? If the answer is ‘no,’ networking will get you nowhere.
“However, if the answer is ‘yes,’ a job-seeker can usually get almost anyone to open his or her Rolodex and/or recommend/refer you to people in his or her personal network.”
Is networking still working?
Networking, especially when we were looking for a job, used to be straightforward.
As someone searching for a job, we would let our closest friends and family members know that we are looking. We would attend networking events in our industry and work the room. We went to local job fairs to press the flesh. We made sure to hide any documents related to our job search—resumes, cover letters, etc.—under a pile of reports on our desk.
In this age of Linked In, Facebook, “likes,” and “friends,” have our virtual lives changed the essence of networking?
“One thing that is for sure is that no matter what, you should have a presence on LinkedIn, especially if you are job-seeking,” says Armstrong. “But while online social networking may capture the lion’s share of attention nowadays, I believe the strongest bonds among people are still based on relationships established in the offline, physical world….
especially for those looking for a job. No one gets hired because of how many online connections they have or because of who they’re connected to. You get hired if the person(s) hiring you like(s) you—your personality, your work ethic, your qualifications, values, education, industry associations and activity, etc.”
If networking is all about making real connections, face to face and in the flesh, what’s the best way to do that?
“The best ‘low-tech’ way to network is to get involved with the local chapter of your industry professional association, which gives you access to other professionals who may work for or have contacts within companies you want to join,” says Armstrong.
“Being a member of your local industry association is a fantastic way to network, meet new people (possibly even future colleagues/employers!), make new friends, learn from the experts brought in to speak at monthly luncheons/events, and utilize all the tools offered by the national association (such as webinars, conferences, continuing education/certification programs, etc.)”
Once you join one of these groups, there are some dos and don’ts:
1. Don’t be tardy for the party. Showing up early allows you to get a feel for the room and start conversations before people have settled into groups.
Become a joiner
2. Do break the ice, but stay away if it’s thin. Anyone can answer, “So what brings you here?” But they can also answer, “What are your thoughts on Wendy Davis?” Both easy questions, but you may not want to hear the answer on the latter. Stay away from political or religious issues.
3. Don’t be a shameless self-promoter. You’re just trying to start a conversation, not move 10,000 copies of your autobiography. Colleen DeBaise, special projects director at Entrepreneur.com, offers this: “Keep your exchange fun, light and informal; you don't need to do the hard sell within minutes of meeting a person. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with—or partner with—people whose company they enjoy.”
4. Be a conversationalist, not a talker. My mother was an expert at this. She always told me that people love to talk about themselves. If you ask a few questions and truly listen to the answers, people will love you, because your attention has made them feel special.
5. Remember to follow up. I love what DeBaise says about how she views networking. “It's often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you've had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you're interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.”
In addition to industry groups, Armstrong says that by joining other social and community groups, we can not only expand our scope of the world but also renew connections.
“I would also recommend volunteering with local nonprofit associations. Volunteering your time opens your mind, and your network, to new possibilities. Finally, alumni associations (alma maters, sorority/fraternity, etc.) offer a great way to make professional connections.
“Many offer monthly happy hours/networking events, opportunities to serve/volunteer, and provide access to their online member database, which allow you to search for old friends by name, class, graduate year, etc., and reconnect.”
Mark Fadden is an award-winning author, freelance writer, youth soccer coach and former ultimate wingman. Check out his books at www.markfadden.com. A version of this story originally appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.