Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Demystifying the rules of networking

If you've ever read a book on job-hunting, you've probably encountered a statistic that says 80-85% of job offers come through networking.
Personal contact, it seems, is essential to getting a new position.
But despite the numbers, many job-seekers remain in resume-overdrive, or try to click their way to a new career.
"Our culture tends to act as though we all naturally know how to network," says Donna Fisher, author of Professional Networking for Dummies.
For Josh Lewis and Justin Mink, both of northern Virginia, networking is second nature. Lewis used a connection he made during his senior year at Cornell University to land a position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mink networked his way into a new telecommunications sales job that offered him a 40% pay raise.
But judging from the reader e-mails I've received on this topic, networking isn't always an innate ability.
Understanding these five fundamentals can make networking less intimidating:
1. Networking is not sales.
Lewis met his contact at the EPA during a one-week 'externship' while he was still in college. Afterwards, he not only sent a thank-you note to his mentor there, but continued checking in via e-mail every month or two.
Though graduation was nearing, Lewis never asked for a job. Instead, he broke the ice by asking how the man's children were doing on their sports teams, a detail he remembered from their conversations. Lewis kept up the correspondence for several months, often requesting advice on whether he should go to graduate school or enter the job market immediately after graduation.
According to Katherine Hansen, author of A Foot in the Door, Lewis took the right approach. Asking for advice both flatters your contacts and gets them thinking about your situation. "They're automatically invested in you," Hansen says.
For Lewis, it paid off. Though he never directly solicited job leads, his contact notified him as soon as there was an opening and encouraged him to apply. Lewis did, and got a job as an environmental engineer.
2. Networking is P.R.
Creating a positive buzz around yourself is critical in networking.
"Your job as a networker is to teach the people you know to trust your character and your competence. And that way they will be inclined to pass you along," says Anne Baber, author of Make Your Contacts Count.
Mink did this skillfully. He had already accepted a job offer when he interviewed with another company, hoping to learn more about the firm and its approach to the industry. The interview went well, but Mink still went to work for the company where he'd accepted an offer.
Mink checked in with his interviewer via e-mail every four or five months, and updated him on his recent accomplishments.
By sending a few messages, Mink accomplished two networking essentials: He established a strong reputation and stayed fresh in his contact's memory. "It really only takes a couple of minutes," Mink says.
Those minutes were well spent. When the interviewer took a high-ranking position at a start-up, he brought Mink with him — at a significantly higher salary.
3. Networking is not a spectator sport.
Face-to-face interactions make networking an effective job-search strategy. Unfortunately, they're also what make it so scary.
True, when you send a resume, you don't have to deal with potential rejection up front. But you won't get the results you could with some one-on-one networking.
"I think everybody knows where most of those resumes go," Fisher says. "But we pretend. We still want to do it that way because it just feels safe and comfortable."
But that's not going to get you a new job. Neither is simply meeting new people.
When you make a new acquaintance, have a clear focus in presenting yourself and requesting their help. Tell them what you're good at, what you like to do and what you're looking for — without scaring them off by asking for a job. Include concrete details that make you memorable, like an award you won or a problem you solved at work.
Most importantly, ask for more contacts. It's this 'second generation' of networking — two or more degrees of separation — where people make connections that lead to job offers, Baber says.
In informational interviews, aim to get three new names from each person you meet. If you succeed in building rapport and presenting yourself as an asset, they may offer to make a phone call or arrange an introduction on your behalf.
Most importantly, always show appreciation for the favors you receive.
"Anybody along the way that does the slightest bit of help should be thanked, preferably with a thank-you note," Hansen says.
4. Networking is not a one-way street.
Focusing on what you can get out of your colleagues is the fastest way to sabotage your networking initiative.
Instead, try to build an alliance — the business version of a friendship — based on shared interests. Consider not just your needs, but your colleagues' as well. Do you have any leads or contacts that would interest them?
You may also need to take a friendly stance with people you'd normally think of as 'the enemy.' Though professional organizations are by far the most effective source of networking contacts, people often view the other members as competition for jobs, rather than allies.
"Your next job is going to come from a competitor," Baber says. "So get to know them and collaborate, don't compete."
5. Networking requires patience. Start now.
Lewis and Mink were wise to begin networking well in advance of when they would need new jobs; their efforts took several months to yield offers.
Forming alliances is easier when you're not actively looking for a job. If you don't have an immediate need, focus on building mutually-beneficial relationships that will pay off down the pike.
Many people aren't aware of current openings at their company. But if you network successfully, they'll let you know when they learn of one and they may even do some extra digging for you. That way, you'll hear about the position before it hits the classified ads and you'll have an internal contact for advice and referrals.
Think of building your web of contacts as knitting a safety net. It's a time-intensive process that requires lots of maintenance. It can quickly save you if you fall, but if you're already out of work you've waited too long to start knitting.
Mink's firm was hit by the economic downturn and he's now out of work. But he has a strong network to fall back on — he's miles ahead of job seekers who haven't laid their groundwork.
If you do need a job right away and haven't launched a networking campaign, don't give up. Everyone has a built-in network of friends, family members, former co-workers and professors — even neighbors.
Begin working connections with people who are most invested in your success. It may take you longer than those who've been grooming their network for years, but it's never to late to start.

No comments:

Post a Comment