Posted on January 19, 2012 5 Comments
What does networking mean to you? Happy hours with people you can’t stand? Costly seminars that don’t yield much information? Really fun parties with food and drinks?
Whatever your view of networking, it’s essential for any job seeker in this economy, at least in my neck of the woods. Those with full-time jobs, like myself, have come to expect resumes regularly from all corners of our network: family, former co-workers, former clients feeling out internship opportunities for their children, friends of current co-workers, recent graduates of the alma mater, acquaintances from far away, and random people from LinkedIn.
Because I’m a communications director at a major university, and because I’ve spoken to several classes on campus and also attend exec ed programs and keep close ties to my own university, I have lots of networking experience helping new-ish graduates. Networking is how I got both of my professional jobs, and also how I help people I know find jobs and leads. It’s *unscientifically and only declared by me* more effective than relying on job postings. But here’s a secret: I actually don’t really like networking that much.
Let me clarify: I completely hate traditional networking, that is. I’m absolutely horrible at “working the room” and I try to avoid events billed as “networking nights” at all costs. Typically when I do go to industry events I find a few people I know, post up at a table and barely introduce myself to anyone new. I’ve had some good experiences; I once won a combination VHS-DVD player. Another time I attending a women in business workshop that was technically not networking but ended up being incredibly inspiring and made me realize that perhaps all networking isn’t bad. But I’ve also attended events where I’m all alone because I got an exclusive “invite” and they promised free drinks, but ultimately just aren’t worth my time. And I’ve sat in on plenty of “workshops” that are really just vendor presentations in disguise.
But as I was declining an invitation to another networking happy hour today, it occurred to me that I actually do know a lot about networking. I’ve seen really good networkers in action, have activated my network on occasion, and also have witnessed pretty big networking blunders. So here’s my personal guide to networking that won’t result in you ending up at some lame party, doing shots with strangers who turn out to be people just trying to sell you something.
- Choose your events carefully, decline gracefully, and when you go, be prepared. Industry events are unavoidable and thus a good place to start my list. Some people love them. They love planning them, attending them, making new friends, and getting free stuff. I am not one of those people. I usually avoid them like the plague. But occasionally a great one comes up — there’s a speaker you want to see, former co-workers or clients you want to catch up with, or a new group (like Bloggers) you want to get to know. When you find one you like,
- Check out the guest list if you can, and make a point of finding people you want to talk with on site (think through some conversation topics when you get there).
- Ask your peers who’s going and definitely try to go with a relevant friend – it will make your whole night run a little smoother.
- Bring your business cards and hand them out selectively.
- Do not sit around with your cell phone out all night…. this opens up the possibility that some weirdo may ask you for your number and insist that he/she call you right then and there to make sure you both have each other’s numbers. (Yes, it’s happened to me.)
- Don’t only talk about reality TV. Please. Read up on some issues of the day before you get there.
- If you run out of conversation topics, take a page out of Eleanor Roosevelt’s playbook and start running through subjects based on the alphabet: Apple gadgets, Basketball teams, Cruise ships, how much you like Denver, etc.
- If you must decline at the last minute or leave early, be gracious and either let your host know as soon as possible. Nothing bums event planners out like empty seats.
- Follow up via email the next day with anyone you exchanged information with. Add them on LinkedIn or follow them on Twitter. Do not add them on Facebook just yet.
- Instead of attending “networking events,” work your network! If you’re looking for a new job, don’t send a mass blast out to everyone you know or post a status update “I need a new job! Who wants to help me out!?” Instead, think about this as a highly involved process: First, consider what job you want or company you are interested in. Then, look at how your network maps to this target. Approach each potential “lead” with a personal email, message, or phone call. Share your resume AND formal cover letter in the first email. Ask to set up a lunch. Prepare a list of questions and conversation topics. Offer to pay for lunch. Show up looking presentable, and take notes while you’re there. Follow up with a thank you message after your lunch. I’ve found that one-on-one networking lunches yield far greater returns than networking events. In fact, a gal from one of the classes I recently participated in tracked me down for a networking lunch. She was polite, but very engaged and highly motivated. She took the advice I gave her during that lunch very seriously, and ended up landing an internship with a PR firm shortly after.
- Be prompt. Be courteous. Follow up. But not too much. People with full time jobs are BUSY, especially those in mid-level or senior-level positions. If you send an initial e-mail or make a call and don’t hear back, try again in three to five days with a quick check-in. Your friend may not have seen the email, or may have dropped in their “look at this later” queue. If you still don’t hear back after two e-mails, give it a few weeks and try again, don’t be shy. If you hear back after any e-mails, respond promptly (usually within 24 hours). If you don’t hear back after three emails, don’t take it personally. But stop emailing. You may be annoying them. The next time you see them in person, mention that you were trying to reach him or her, and leave it at that. If he or she welcomes an email from you, they’ll ask for it.
- Always use professional communications for professional networking. That means complete sentences, no “dude, yo, bro,” or whatever else we’re saying now, even if you’re emailing or messaging one of your close friends. You never know who might get the forward. I know some more progressive companies built around youth or creative cultures might welcome casual language in communications, so when in doubt, ask an industry peer (or professor).
- Use social networking to connect with new contacts. I’ve alluded to LinkedIn plenty here. But Twitter can be an effective tool for building your networks in certain industries like PR, marketing, communications. And for others, like science, research, medicine, and too. Blogs and Tumblr are still great for showcasing portfolios of work. And I’ve had success getting in touch with people on more dedicated “social” platforms like Google+ and Facebook. It’s really up to your preferences, your network, your industry. Obviously if you’re using a social platform for career networking, you need to be sure it’s appropriate for potential employers (and less obviously, potential referrers within your own network). Scrub-a-dub-dub those pages, people.
- Check in with recruiters from companies you like. It’s a good idea to look into the HR department or set up one-on-one meetings or lunches with recruiters if possible. Not job interviews, more like informational interviews. You want them to know you and your skill set, your interests, so that if a position ever opens up, you’re on recruiting’s mind. This may not be feasible for every industry, but it works in mine so consider it a brainstorming idea.
- As someone who networks to help other people, be judicious. If you aren’t looking for a job, but are in the position to serve as a connector between two people you know, remember your reputation is on the line. If someone approaches you and asks to pass a resume along, by all means, do it. But you don’t need to give your full endorsement of that job-seeker against your better judgement if you have serious concerns about their work ethic, skill set, or history. However, if you know someone great who be a wonderful fit for a position, say so with confidence. Your word will go a long way.
I might come up with a how-to-network 2, since I’ve just been writing these on the fly but am now getting kind of tired. So I’ll stop here for now and pause to ask what you think. What is your experience with networking? Do these tips help you? What did I leave off this list?
Can’t wait to hear your responses. Good night friends.