By Cynthia Sutherland
Do you find job networking productive? You may not be able to control others’ responses to your efforts, but you can guide and influence people. And you can learn how to be more effective by practicing two-way networking.
You may be uncomfortable with networking, that introvert/extrovert thing. But job search is a time when you need to step out of your comfort zone. And career networking must be ongoing these days. It’s a changed work world.
A key is that the target of your networking may not understand the value of networking, mentoring or “paying it forward.” So you need to guide the process. Alternatively, you don’t want to go overboard by using aggressive and self-centered tactics.
It’s helpful to understand what job networking is and is not. Networking is a comfortable conversation with a goal in mind, e.g., gathering job leads and learning how to reach insiders, hiring managers and recruiters.
Job networking is not a cold calling sales technique; that’s a one-way street. Like any interaction, networking is a means to converse, build a relationship, however brief, and provide something in return. It’s a two-way street that answers the “WIFM” – what’s in it for me, your target.
One of the simplest books I’ve read on job search, and networking, is by Orville Pierson. It’s called The Unwritten Rules of Highly Effective Job Search. The most important job search technique Pierson describes is networking, which he says is “just plain talking to people” in the context of a project plan and job target list.
Recently, I was part of a planning group. In a session, a leader surprised me by mentioning being uncomfortable when approached by people “in transition.” The leader I spoke to had risen quickly in a one-company career. (How typical will that be in the future?) “Why?” I asked.
I was told that job seekers cornered leaders at events to ask for help in getting a job. The leaders didn’t know the individuals or their circumstances, so the requests were viewed as awkward. That’s why a two-way conversation is important in networking.
• Networking is a “two-way” street: Know when to give and how to take. Remember “WIFM.”
• Guide networking targets: Even senior leaders may not be familiar with networking techniques. Plan the interaction; lay groundwork; make it a two-way situation.
• Contact people you know first. Build your circle from that. That’s Orville Pierson’s advice.
• Use common sense: Follow-up but don’t hound networking targets if they don’t respond.
• Do your homework on the organization before contacting a network target.
• Know targets’ knowledge of the search process. External/internal recruiters are savvy about the search process. Others may not be, even leaders and hiring managers.
• When you land, don’t just move on. Pay it forward. Be open to networking in your new role. And use networking to advance your future career and job choices.
Cynthia Sutherland is a senior human resources professional, focusing primarily on diversity and inclusion and work-life.
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