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Networking: Make It Work for You

Does the thought of “networking” make you groan? No wonder, if you think of it as any of the following:

  • Asking friends for favors.
  • Asking people to do things they don’t want to do.
  • Kissing up to people.
  • Spending time in banal conversation with people you don’t really know or care about.

And yet, you’re told over and over that networking is at the heart of a good job search, so you grit your teeth and attempt the networking dance that feels so unnatural and uncomfortable.

Relax! Let’s rethink networking so you’ll see it as a very human, very natural process – and one that anyone can master and even enjoy.

News Flash: Your Network WANTS to Help You!

First of all, let’s redefine networking. To me it means “talking to people.” When you’re in a job search, that becomes “talking purposefully to people,” but it’s still quite natural. After all, we talk to people every day. We connect via phone, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, text, and even sometimes in person.

Second, think before you speak (or write). Remember that job-search networking is purposeful. In addition to the normal human rewards you’ll get from connecting with others, you want something else from this interaction. Know what you want and practice how to ask for it.

Third, be pleasant and professional and get to the point quickly. It’s great to share some social niceties, but people are busy. They don’t want to find out 30 minutes into a conversation that you’re calling to ask for something specific but are just now bringing it up.

Fourth, never ask for something your contacts can’t or won’t want to give. Good examples of bad things to ask:

  • Do you have any job leads?
  • What do you think I should do next in my career?
  • Can you give me your boss’s contact info? I’d like to approach her about a job.
  • Can you share your contact list?
  • Will you ask all of your contacts to keep their eyes open for me?

Finally, think about how you feel when people you know and like ask you for something. Don’t you want to help? It’s a natural human instinct. And if it’s something you can do fairly quickly and easily, you’re going to do it and feel pretty good about it. The same is true for your network – they want to help you! And if you make it relatively easy for them, they’ll do it gladly.

So when you frame your requests, ask for something your contacts will want to say “yes” to. For example:

  • I’d love to know what it’s like to work at XYZ Company. Can you spare 10 minutes to tell me about your experiences?
  • [Our mutual contact] told me that you know a lot about the future of the mining industry. Can I pick your brain for a few minutes?
  • Mega Corp is one of my target companies. I’m really excited about what they’re doing in robotics. Do you know anyone there who might be willing to chat with me for a few minutes?
  • I have an interview at Acme next week with the VP of Marketing, and I understand you know him well from your Chamber activities. Would you be willing to put in a good word for me?

In other words … ask for something specific and within the scope of your contact’s knowledge and authority, and let your network work for you!

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