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The Practical Realities of Networking

Taken from the heart of a current job seeker

Networking is the buzzword for “knowing lots of people in all walks of life”. We hear it all the time, in social circles, professional circles, even in academia. Whatever your issue, people will offer the guidance “have you tried networking?” as if it is some miracle drug. It’s how people find spouses, jobs, houses, and handymen. But until you really understand what networking is and how it will get you from point A to point B, you will travel in frustrating circles and never reach your destination.

I am currently “in transition”. Simply put - I am between jobs. Classic time to dust off that folder of contacts with whom I had some connection at some time in the past, but for one reason or another have lost touch. It is time to resurrect my “network”. So as I ponder the various aspects of networking, and ask myself “what works and what doesn’t, I want to share my thoughts with you.

  1. If you don’t ask the question, the answer is always “NO”.

    My children will sometimes approach me sheepishly with something on their minds. I boldly tell them “The answer is no if you never ask the question”. The same holds true of networking to get a job, close the sale, and find the new opportunity. Tell everyone you know: “I am looking for a new opportunity. Do you know someone with whom I can connect?” If the person says “no”, you can scratch that contact off your list. But unless you have come into contact with someone who lives in a bubble, everyone knows someone! And that someone will know someone else, and on and on and on. But if you never ask the question, that someone will never know that you HAVE a question to ask!

  2. “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone”.

    It’s an old saying, and most would think of it strictly as a social connotation. But it is totally relevant in a professional setting! When you are networking, there is no such thing as being too upbeat. Be friendly, be personable, and act as if the world is your oyster. Happiness is contagious and people want to interact with people who bring them up, not down. If you allow that networking contact to see you feeling down or anxious, you lose the possibility of countless other contact opportunities. Do you want to interact with someone who acts downtrodden?

  3. Every contact is important. Some are just more important than others.

    During this time of transition, I am spending some time on home repairs and recently was chatting with one repairman. Commenting that I wouldn’t be able to complete the repair until I found a new job, he stated that he was doing work for someone else who happens to be an executive at a large retained search firm. “Would you like me to hand your resume off to him?” The repairman asked. Will this go anywhere? Who knows? But how many minutes did it take me to hand my resume to someone? Not long!

  4. If you are not passionate about your worth, no one else will be. Exude confidence even when it hurts.

    Difficult to feel confident when your former employer just handed you that pink slip? You bet. First and foremost, unless you have committed some egregious illegal act, you are most likely a good person who just got caught in a bad situation. Just because you are no longer the right match for that company does not have anything to do with you as a person. When my daughter was about nine years old, she looked at me one day and said, “when I feel bad, I just think really hard about what a good person I am and it makes me feel better”. Out of the mouths of babes. And it’s true. The only aspect of your world that is truly in your control is who you are. Stand tall. Be proud. You are every bit the star that any Hollywood actor is. Now go out and show the world!

  5. You can never smile enough.

    An executive at a major financial institution once told me that he never really had the technical skills to do his job. But he smiled a lot, and made those around him feel very comfortable with that smile. When you turn on the TV and look at a commercial, do you see any ads that show unhappy people? Not many! Usually, it’s the smile that catches your eye and makes you want to buy that product. Well, you are selling yourself. The more you smile, the more those around you will translate that smile into competence.

  6. Even if a meeting produces nothing immediately valuable, send a thank you note.

    Not only is this common courtesy, but also who knows when that person you meet does find something valuable for you. Two things happen when you send a thank you note. First, it sets you apart in a positive way from all of those (and there are many!) who never send a thank you note. If you make the note a little personal, i.e. “I really appreciated your taking time, especially since you just returned from vacation”, you will have sent the message that: a) you listened; and b) you found a connection. Second, when you send a thank you note, especially via email, you have given that person a way to contact you back, as well. I remember a few years ago that someone contacted me who was in transition. I couldn’t quite think of a good connection for him at the time. He never followed up with any kind of communication, and I had long since tossed the paper resume he had handed me when we met. Lo and behold, an opportunity crossed my desk several months later that might have been of interest to him. But what was his email address? I had forgotten, and of course there was nothing to remind me. With the advent of technological devices, some people have forgotten those basic courtesies we learned long ago. Don’t put yourself in that category! A contact today can be valuable tomorrow or the next day. Find a simple way of staying in touch. Send a thank you. It will also act as a reminder to you to follow up again a month or two later.

  7. Third party referrals provide sources for all kinds of projects, and you have probably hired people yourself through third party referrals. Aren’t you at least that important?

    Why wouldn’t someone hire you after getting your resume hand delivered by someone in his/her company? While a personal connection might give you an even better edge, certainly a hand delivery will always be better than an electronic or snail mail copy caught in the middle of the thousands of others in the pile. When your neighbor’s cousin had his roof repaired and was happy, didn’t you choose to call that roofer instead of looking for one out of the phone book? No matter how junior or senior the position, a hand delivered resume will help. If it gets put into the stack of others, at least it lands on top of the pile at that point in time.

  8. Help comes at unexpected times from unlikely sources. Everyone could be a networking contact.

    Surely you have heard about the couple that met each other in line at the grocery store, or somewhere similarly unlikely. And even important people shop in the grocery store. Strike up a conversation with the person in front of you in line. No, don’t ask for a job, but certainly be upbeat and cherry and comment on the economy, your passions, world peace or any combination. It will create some give and take (most of the time) and who knows where it will lead. Speak to your clergyman. He/She tends to know people in the congregation well. Can he make an introduction for you? As with many other aspects of life in general, your good deed gets returned in some other way. As you help others, someone else will help you. It’s called “human nature”.

  9. Never give up!

    Some days are more productive than others, but that’s true while you’re working, too. All days cannot possibly have the same impact. Cut yourself some slack. Ever have one of those days where nighttime falls and you say, “I didn’t get a thing done today?” Welcome to the crowd! It happens. But just as in life there are peaks and valleys and days of tremendous accomplishments and wasted days, everyday cannot be a networking bull’s eye. Pace yourself. Networking is a way of life, not just a passing fancy. If you don’t make a valuable contact today, the world will not end.

  10. Stay focused. Follow your plan.

    It becomes a talking point with everyone. When you are in transition, people from all walks of life will want to be helpful. Many just don’t know how. If you are focused and have a plan, you can guide your networking contacts so that they can be optimally helpful to you. Be ready to talk about who you are, what you want, where you add value, what your plan is, and where you are in the development of your plan.

In today’s job market, being “in transition” may not be a one-time event and it may happen again. That doesn’t mean that you live each day as if it’s your last day on the job. It does mean that your personal connections remain valuable and important and treat each one of these contacts as such. Create a system to reach out to people on a regular basis. For me that means keeping an email address system and a handwritten file system. My daughter remarked to me that she thought networking was a job in itself. I think networking is life in itself.

- Cynthia Osofsky

This article was written by Cynthia Osofsky, BS, MBA, who has spent her career helping companies achieve revenue and profitability targets, and guiding individuals to reach their career potential by being a mentor, coach and keen assessor and developer of professional talent. Her email address is MktSolutionsLLC@yahoo.com.

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