Networking: A Two-Way Street

Networking: A Two-Way Street

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Question: I hate networking! I hate going to crowded meetings where I don’t know anyone, telling people I want a job and seeing them cringe, burdening my friends with my unemployment woes and cold calling. These are all activities I find totally repugnant. Yet, I know I have to do it, even though it’s getting me nowhere. Obviously, I need help.

Answer: The first thing you need is an attitude adjustment. When you hate what you’re doing, it’s hard to hide your distaste. And people can sense your discomfort which makes them want to flee.

When it comes to networking misconceptions you’re also not alone. You just don’t understand how to network effectively. It’s not all about you. However, with a little forethought and some targeted research, you and other misinformed job seekers can become candidates almost anyone would be happy to help.

Poor networking methods generally derive from a "me-against-the-world" attitude. Without an understanding of a contact's perspective, a job seeker may seem to be selfish and unconcerned about anyone but himself.

To be a successful networker, you must perceive the process as a two-way street. If you want a favor from a stranger, be prepared to give her a motive for attending to your needs instead of putting the time into her own pressing project. Here are some tips for becoming a nominee for "Networker of the Year":

  • Recognize that people may be willing to give you information for a variety of reasons. They may do it as a favor to a friend or manager whom they respect, admire (or fear). They may enjoy playing the "expert."
  • They may have an altruistic desire to help you in making a critical life decision.
  • You might have valuable information or business opportunities for them either now or in the future.
  • They are always looking for great employees, and you sound like a worthwhile prospect.
  • Perhaps, they’re in a really good mood when you serendipitously call at just the right moment.

Whatever their motive, you must be prepared to allude to one or more of the above reasons for contacting. For instance, if your good friend Jim Collins suggested you get in touch with his other good friend Susan in Atlanta, you would say, "Hi. This is Taunee Besson. Jim Collins and I were playing golf last Saturday when your name came up in the conversation. I told Jim I was thinking about moving to Atlanta and he said that, before I talk to anyone else, I should call you. He’s sure you’re the best person to tell me about the city and introduce me to everyone worth knowing. Since I've always found Jim's advice to be right on target, I'm starting my Atlanta research with you. Besides I promised I would send his regards, ask about your new granddaughter, and report back to Jim on our conversation."

By starting your call with these few carefully selected words, you have alluded to an important friendship between Susan and Jim, told her she is an acknowledged expert on Atlanta, indicated you are also a good buddy of Jim's, who might make an excellent employee or colleague for her or one of her friends, mentioned that you agreed to tell Jim about your conversation, and asked about her granddaughter, who undoubtedly is important in her life. How can this woman refuse to talk to you when you've given her so many good reasons to believe your impending phone conversation or visit will be both enjoyable and rewarding?

Remember that networking is about making connections in both directions, not just a one-way street. So, in your networking conversations, find ways you can help as much as get help.

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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