Michelle was recently let go after five years of employment. She is hurt, tired, and yet glad to be moving on. But when well-meaning colleagues and friends tell her that she has to start networking, she cringes inside. She is finding it so hard to know where to begin, and to muster the emotional energy to market herself to other people.
Michelle is not alone. Whether you are currently employed and discreetly looking for other opportunities, or unemployed and openly on the market, most professionals will give you the same advice: you have to network. And that can sound scary, partially because we don’t always know what it means, or how to go about doing it well.
Effective networking is personal
The best way to get your friends and colleagues involved in helping you find a job is through direct personal contact with those people who you believe may be able to assist you, either through making useful introductions, personally recommending you for an open position at their workplace, or giving your CV to a hiring manager or HR manager that they know.
Although you may have a short list of people who you think could help you on your job search, it is possible that someone you did not even consider could open a door for you. That’s why it’s important to get comfortable sharing what you are looking for with friends, acquaintances, colleagues and family, even if you can’t see how that specific person might help. They may know of an opportunity through their spouse, friends or other colleagues, or be able to make a valuable connection for you.
Try and get comfortable sharing this part of your life with others. Most people will be glad that you are sharing things openly and will be glad to help if they can. If your search is discreet at present, be more careful who you tell; however if you feel the person you are talking to is responsible and trustworthy, you can simply ask them to keep your search confidential.
Mass communication networking is usually a mistake
For many people, employment “networking” translates into a group email, Facebook post, LinkedIn update or tweet, saying that they are looking for their next challenge, This can be an attractive way to feel that you are networking and getting the word out. Of course, if you are employed, these kinds of mass communications are out, since your colleagues and employers are very likely to either see it or hear about it.
However, even if your job search is not a secret, this kind of “networking” usually will not get you very far anyway. The more people are included in your communication, the less responsibility each individual will feel to actually make an effort to help you in your search. Also, communication with a large group of people is by nature going to sound generic and impersonal, which will make the recipients less engaged with you and your job search.
Specific requests vs. “keep me in mind”
When approaching a colleague or friend in a networking context, many people naturally shy away from making direct requests. They may feel that asking for something upfront is too pushy, or they may be afraid of getting a no in response.
Yet I would recommend asking your connections to do something very specific for you, as opposed to just asking them to keep you in mind. I believe that this is actually appreciated by busy professionals who would be glad to help but don’t have the time to sit down and think how they might assist you in your job search. By asking them to do one thing for you, they can feel that they have done what you asked, and not feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when they see you next because they have not really “kept you in mind”.
Ask for things that will not take your contacts out of their comfort zone, and use each fulfilled request as a stepping stone to the next contact. For example, you might ask a colleague to make an email introduction to the hiring manager at their company, or to share your CV with a colleague that is hiring. If you stick with the program, you will be much more likely to land interviews and become a candidate for relevant job opportunities.
Find the right networking pace for you – and stick to it
Networking can take its toll on your energy and on your self-confidence. It can be hard to put yourself out there all the time. If you push yourself too hard, you will drain your energy and won’t make a good impression in your networking; so pace yourself. But it is important to set yourself daily or weekly networking goals such as a set number of calls, email or meetings, and stick to the pace that is right for you.
Networking can be a frightening word; however if you do it right, and select the right pace for your personality, the time you spend actively networking until you find your next job will be limited. If you take your networking seriously, you are much more likely to find the right position in a shorter time. You may even find that the sharing and communication involved will help you form some valuable relationships along the way.