Networking can be difficult and intimidating. Our HR Expert advisory council answers the following question about networking:
We are often told networking is the key to finding a good job. What is something most people get wrong about networking, that you’d like to help them get right?
These are long, well thought out answers. Probably longer than most Five on Fridays will be (btw, there are only four answers….Are you, or do you know, an HR Expert that wants to join this council? If so, let us know!)
Julie: It’s easy to view networking occurring exclusively at formal, professionally themed events. It’s true that some networking events are more structured and prescriptive, and it’s nice to be involved with the professional associations that host them. And yet, it’s easy to overlook the opportunities to make connections in the course of a regular day, going about our regular business and leisure activities. This doesn’t mean abruptly asking the person you see often at the coffee shop, “Hey, what do you do for work?” It feels more approachable to start with, “This is one of my favorite places to work, too. I see you here often and thought I’d say hello for once.”
Networking is as simple as that – mustering the courage to say hello and find a common interest/activity/topic to introduce yourself with. You can do this in the places you feel most at home, doing the things you enjoy. Your morning exercise class, school fundraisers, farmer’s markets, or maybe an author speaking event.
For some folks, networking and business card swapping happens best at one of those more formal, themed events – and that’s great! Yet I encourage everyone to stay curious and remember there are moments for making connections in the course of favorite or routine activities. Remember that networking doesn’t always start and end with career talk. A friendly comment of, “That’s a great book, I recently read it myself” may lead to more conversation and shared interests…before you realize it, you just networked. Put yourself out there, say hello, and stay curious.
Laura: I see that people give up too soon on someone. Let’s be honest, we’re all busy and things slip through the cracks. I’ve forgotten to email people back that I care about deeply. It happens.
So rather than write it off that this person you emailed 2 weeks ago must not remember you or must not think you’re that great, just re-send your email. And resend it again if you still don’t hear back. People give up after 1-2 tries and the reality is that consistency and persistence matters. Go into your sent email folder and re-send your original email with a quick note like “Susy, wanted to make sure you received. Regards, Laura” I promise if you do that 3, 4 maybe even 5 times going back to your original email the person is going to think “Wow, this person takes their job search serious” and will want to help. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life so stop doubting yourself. When in doubt, pick up the phone! Don’t hide behind email if you know you’re better on the phone anyway!
Michelle: You must be genuine, listen, act with intention, and follow through in order to be successful in networking efforts. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. Not every event is worth going to, and doing so will only exhaust you. General Job fairs are actually waste of time for most professionals. Leave those to recent grads or others who have little to no work experience. Surrounding yourself in a sea of people who are unemployed is not where your energy should be focused. Instead, figure out what you want next and focus on finding it. If you join an unemployment group of any sort, do so for support and comradery. There is value in emotional support, but know that it is not networking.
The key to successful networking is to surround yourself with working people in your field and/or industry of interest.
Be professional, but be yourself to give potential colleagues or employers a genuine sense of who you are and what you would be like to work with. Yes, you should be able to talk about yourself comfortably (have an elevator pitch), but be tactful. Don’t spew your “pitch at people. Approach people with the intent to have a conversation. No one enjoys being talked at and people are more likely to help someone they like. You can gain so much more about the local job market, company insight, culture, hiring process insight by approaching other with a question or two and then talking the time to truly listen and engage in a conversation. Consider asking those you meet what it’s like to work where they do, what they are working on, how they ended up there, why they stay, their impression of the hiring process… Networking is about building relationships, the best way to begin if with a genuine dialog.
Avoid pushing paperwork, talk to people. Don’t jab your resume at them. Have a conversation, connect with them on LinkedIn, and then follow up with them later. Also, remember, it’s about people, don’t be afraid to see if there are shared interests outside of work. Perhaps you connect here. The Northwest especially is not a formal environment.
To ensure you approach each event with intention, set some goals for yourself for each event. If you are new to networking start with something simple like, meeting 10 people you didn’t know and connecting with one of them on LinkedIn within 24 hours. If you have always wanted to work a particular company, set a goal of meeting 3 (that could be peer level) people from that company. Find out what it’s like to work there and how they got there. Set a goal of meeting a member of leadership in a target company and ask them what their insights into future needs might be, gaps, what they look for in terms of cultural fit. You could set a goal to find out about 3-5 companies that might be growing, then follow up to see who might be hiring. If they aren’t hiring yet, inquire about an informational interview.
Sometimes in networking environments I’ve come across job seekers who are meek and almost diminutive. Admittedly, walking into a group of strangers and saying you’re looking for work is daunting, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Amazing, hard-working people are being let go at jobs everyday – through no fault of their own. Getting laid off isn’t a mark of shame…but a fact of life for many of us.
The primary thing I see though goes back to my answer for the previous question. Many people seem to recall what they’ve done and where they’ve worked, but miss an opportunity to tap the knowledge of others. By that I mean taking the time to learn about industries, asking people about the industries they are in, and essentially inviting the people you meet into your research process.
Finding the right company, industry, location, fit etc. is hard. Why not take the opportunity to learn from the people you meet while networking – about their company, community and organizations they respect – and see where it takes you? At a minimum, it might inform you about where you want to focus your efforts. At best, it can extend your reach to identify opportunities that you wouldn’t identify otherwise.
My Answer: All I can really add is that all of the data online is clear. Networking will help you find a job faster. It will help you find a better job. It will help you make and keep friendships. Why not network?
What were your emotions like? Share your thoughts in the comments, or by emailing us. We hope to collect a lot of comments, and post them here for people to see.