Wednesday, February 10, 2010

5 Ways to Avoid Freaking Out About Networking


Hear that? That growling noise? That's the sound of dozens of career experts venting their frustrations over how many job seekers still refuse to accept they must network if they want to find a job. Career bloggers are ranting about how the unemployed still spend most of their time looking at job boards instead of making contacts, and it's not getting any better. That's what prompted my interest in this story on networking -- the fact that so many job seekers seem to keep ignoring the advice. Here's the story I did for Gannett:


If you’re looking for work, it may be time to step away from the computer.

That’s because like many job seekers, you’re probably spending way too much time poring over job boards and sending resumes to cyber black holes that offer you little chance of finding a job.

Instead, it’s time to get on the phone or go out to lunch. In other words, it’s time to network, still the best way to land a job.

However, chances are good you’re going to balk at the suggestion. Networking for many people has the appeal of doing taxes or having an especially painful medical procedure.

“I think part of the problem is because people don’t feel at the top of their game when they’re looking for work. They’re afraid of looking needy and helpless to other people. And, they feel like it’s begging – especially if they haven’t been networking until now,” says
Liz Lynch, founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of “Smart Networking.”

According to research by
Upwardly Mobile Inc., an online career management service in Palo Alto, Calif., job seekers only talk, or e-mail, an average of eight people outside of their current organization on a monthly basis. Only 38 percent say they have asked for an introduction in the last month, and job seekers on average only have a network of 29 colleagues, which they define as peers they’ve interacted with in the last 18-24 months.

Such statistics, Lynch says, prove it’s time that those hunting for work must move past their doubts and inhibitions about networking if they want to find a job.

“I think the first thing these people need to realize is that others really do want to help them,” she says. “The second thing they need to realize is that they’ve got to be much more targeted and strategic about their networking.”

She suggests job seekers should:

• Attend events attended by others in your industry or field of interest. “If you attend a networking event with random people, it won’t help you. Then, you’ll just say that networking doesn’t work and you won’t do it again,” Lynch says.

• Be prepared. Always dress professionally when networking, refine your pitch on your capabilities and be ready to ask pertinent questions. “I think some people have this idea that they’re’ gong to network with someone and the person will say, ‘Oh, my gosh! I’ve been looking for you all my life!’ People don’t really have a job in their back pocket, but they can give you information that will help you in your search, such as what the hot-button issues are in the industry, or who might be hiring in the future.”

• Give back. It can be uncomfortable and awkward to just call and ask someone for a job lead, so instead ask a question like: “I’ve been thinking of going in this direction with my job search, and I’d like to get your thoughts.” Lynch says it also can help ease your discomfort by then offering something in return, such as saying, “Is there anything I can do for you?” To maintain the connection, send the person articles or information you think they might find of value.

• Avoid over-using social networking. Sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great for keeping tabs on your contacts, but nothing beats a face-to-face conversation for making strong connections. “Use your social networks to do advance research when you’re going to meet someone, but remember you can make a much better impression in person,” she says.

• Keep the networking muscle in use. It’s estimated college graduates will change jobs nearly a dozen times in their careers, and networks will remain critical. “Often, your discomfort with networking goes away when you’ve got a job, so that’s a great time to work on your connections,” Lynch says. “Take the time once a week or even once a month to ask someone from your company or another connection to go to lunch. By the end of the year, you will really have expanded your network.”

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