Today's column comes from David Bell, a successful job seeker who used networking to help land a new job in the current economy. I asked him to explain the secret to his success, and he distilled his experience into six key points that can help you build a better network:
- Always remember that you're asking people for information, not a job
- Start with people you know, then expand to their acquaintances and finally strangers after the process becomes second nature.
- When you reach out to a contact, have in mind what you want to say, but don't obsess about it.
- Recognize that you'll have good and bad days.
- Prepare a specific topic for each discussion.
- If your contact refers you to other people, keep in touch about how the new connections are going.
Networking often goes bad because job seekers try to ask friends and strangers about specific job openings. This puts people in an awkward position – after all, if they don't know you, they'll naturally hesitate to recommend you for a job. When you make people uncomfortable by being too pushy online, you destroy any opportunity you might get to meet face-to-face, or find out about new jobs openings in the future.
It's important to practice on your friend before moving on to people they suggest. Using a referral's name when you contact someone you don't know can be very helpful in breaking the ice.
But you shouldn't avoid networking with strangers just because you have no automatic "in" with them. As David Bell points out, "Contact to everyone you can, whether it's by email, social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, or even over the phone. You never know who'll have the most useful information or take an interest in you. Aside from helping you find a job, it's a wonderful way to make new friends, especially if you've recently moved to a new city."
While the delay built in to most social network communication makes it easier to "think before you speak," some contacts you meet will prefer the immediacy of phone calls or instant messaging. In these cases, be prepared to give the name of your referral (if you have one), state why you're contact them (for information not a job) and ask a short list of questions about your contact's area of expertise. Putting these thoughts together ahead of time can save you the embarrassment of now knowing what to say.
However, be careful not to over-prepare, since this can easily turn into an excuse for putting off your first contact. Or worse, you can get so married to a specific script that you blank when a conversation strays to another subject. It's the same as reciting a memorized poem back in English class – if you're too rigid, any distraction will cause you to lose your place and screw up.
People won't respond to your messages, or decline your requests to chat. A few experiences like this, and you may begin to resist reaching out to key contacts for fear of being rejected. But don't give up! Persistence and a sense of humor are key to successful networking.
Maintaining your objectivity when you're on a job search roller coaster is easier said than done, especially if you are trying to do it alone. A good support system of friends, fellow job seekers, a career counselor, enjoyable activities etc. can be really helpful in smoothing out the unrealistic highs and lows you're bound to experience.
And if you find yourself putting off networking because you just hate doing it, try to come up with a plan that will be excuse proof. Promise a friend you will make 10 contacts a week, and give them reports on your progress. Dedicate time just for networking. Tell yourself you will connect with 12 people before you do any other activities. Then reward yourself for sticking to your plan.
Do some research on the company, industry or career of your contact. Put together a list of questions, including some that deal specifically with their background. Ask for advice on your job search, and the names of other professionals who would be beneficial to connect with. Think about ways you might help, like suggesting other contacts they might find useful.
Your contact will feel gratified that their contacts were useful, and will admire you for seizing available opportunities.
With a little practice and perseverance, networking can help you connect with important people and positions much more effectively, and stand out in an increasingly crowded job market.