Networking: How to be effective and not feel like a nuisance!

Does the thought of networking evoke a queasy feeling or make you groan? If the answer is yes then you can take some small comfort in knowing that you’re not alone! Regardless of whether you’re a social butterfly or a wallflower, it’s necessary to approach networking strategically to get results. Unfortunately, all too often people simply lack the skills to network effectively.

If you’re an introvert like me, it’s not easy to put yourself out there. It doesn’t feel natural and it’s mentally and emotionally draining. Maybe you think you’ll be seen as disingenuous, pushy, annoying or self-serving. Or, maybe you think that it’s a meritless way to land a job, believing that working extremely hard should be enough, rather than a function of who you “know.”

Regardless of where you are on the social spectrum, networking effectively is a critical component of your job search strategy when pursuing your dream job.

Do I have to network?

While it’s still possible to find a job without networking, it’s getting increasingly difficult and oftentimes incredibly frustrating for the job searcher.

It’s also difficult for the hiring manager, who can be so overwhelmed by the quantity of incoming resumes and cover letters that they have just a few seconds to review each one. The resumes quickly start looking the same with nothing to distinguish candidates.

Research from Dr. John Sullivan, a professor of Management at San Francisco State found that the most competitive companies, such as Google, hire less than 1% of their online job applicants and that the typical resume only has six seconds to impress.

Unfortunately, your resume may never get those six seconds because the majority of jobs are filled before they’re advertised.

According to a recent study conducted by LinkedIn influencer Lou Adler, 55% of all jobs are filled through the hidden job market, a combination of internal promotions and networking.

Simply put, the best way to hear about the best jobs and to get the attention of the hiring manager is through personal relationships.  People like doing business with who they know and trust, which almost always takes precedence over having all the necessary qualifications.

What is networking?

Networking is a mindset. We are social beings and therefore already wired to connect and help others.

Networking is using our natural social tendency with a strategy to see more opportunity and possibility by having a mindset of openness, curiosity and generosity, and the intention of helping others and helping yourself.

Most people don’t like networking because they don’t actually understand what it is. It is not about attending events and trying to give your business card to as many people as possible. It is about genuine conversation and connection. It is about helping others while also helping yourself. It is about building relationships that are mutually beneficial.

What you must know before you start networking

Before reaching out to a single person in your network, you need to first know what you want as specifically as possible. It’s totally fine if your goals evolve as you talk to people and learn more about what you’d like to do. But you must be as clear about your goals as possible from the start – close friends, family or a coach can help you tease this out.

Being generic with your request or goal when talking to a person in your network will just remove all potential and possibility from that connection. This person is not going to figure out what you want for you, you need to be able to articulate the following in terms that are as specific as possible:

  • Know what type of job you want. What are the job titles? Write your dream job description to clarify.
  • What companies would you want to work for? (It doesn’t matter if they don’t have a job opening, but knowing the type of company culture that fits you best is important.)
  • Do you have the skills and experience necessary? What, if anything, is lacking?  What do you need to learn to be more valuable?
  • What are your assets and strengths? What do you offer to the world?
  • Does the desired job align with your values and lifestyle?

Mental preparation

In networking you need courage, resiliency, patience, stamina, self-care, determination, positivity, and a strong work ethic. If you don’t have one or several of these characteristics, then see what resources or support you can gain from your key supporters to help boost that area.

Networking is not a sprint; it’s more of an endurance sport. When you network, slow down, be present, and try to enjoy the process. This will speed up your chances for success in the job-search race. Just because you have an agenda doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy connecting with people.

And remember, it feels good to help others and most people want to help you. When you ask for advice, people like to be recognized for their expertise. Almost everyone knows what it’s like to look for a job; they’ll empathize with your situation.

Identify your Network

Your network is bigger than you think. It includes family, friends, co-workers (although don’t use current ones if you’re doing a stealth job search), LinkedIn, Facebook, professional associations, parents of your child’s friends, work-out buddies, church, alumni groups, neighbors, book clubs or any other group with whom you may spend time. Don’t forget about your spouse, family or close friend’s networks as well.

Collect all of these names and information into a spreadsheet. Use the spreadsheet to track such details as who connected you, the last date you reached out, the next date to follow-up, what connection the person has, industry, and anything else that will be helpful to know and remember.

Categorize your network by type of connection (strong or weak) and identify the individuals who have connections directly to the companies or industry in which you want to work. These are key ties.

Importance of Weak Ties

In networking it is also important to understand the strength of your weak ties.

Defined by researcher Mark Granovetter and explained by Eileen Brown, CEO of SocialMedia Today:

Strong tie: someone who you know well. You interact with them on social networking sites and there is 2-way conversation, and even if you don’t know everything about them, you know them pretty well and information flows freely. The strong tie typically follows the same news streams.

Weak tie: someone with whom you have a more tenuous relationship.  You may talk to them once a year, or just send a holiday card promising to be in touch more often.  If you reach out they are surprised to hear from you. You have different interests and don’t interact much.

Weak ties are critical in binding groups of strong ties together.  They bring circles of networks into contact with each other, strengthening relationships and forming new bonds between existing relationship circles. These “weak tie” friends might have information that is mutually beneficial to one other, but more importantly, these ties encourage sharing of information across different groups.

Maintaining your weak ties and adding new ones is crucial to your networking success. New ties invigorate your network by providing connections to new networks, viewpoints, and opportunities.

Strategic contact

Effective networking is a give-and-take process. It involves sharing information, asking questions and cultivating a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s not about handing out your business card on the street, or having meaningless small talk with a room of strangers.

Before approaching someone, know your “ask” and your “give”.

Possible Asks: specific information, an introduction, leads, company culture insight, informational interview, or a reference.

Possible Gives: how you can help them solve a problem or challenge (you’ll need to do some research or ask during the conversation), information, support, connection with someone in your network, article of interest or something meaningful to the person.

During the connection

Be your authentic self. Hiding your true self will only hurt you in the long run.

Be considerate. Take time to really catch up with an old connection and be aware of not taking too much time with a really busy person (especially someone you don’t know well).

Be specific when you ask for advice or information, but don’t ask for a job. You want to build trust and allies, not put the person in an uncomfortable position.

Ask your connection what you can do for him or her and make an offer of a “give”.

After the connection, always send a thank-you note. Check in periodically to see how they’re doing and keep them informed of your progress. Nurture the relationship through your job search and beyond and you’ll soon establish a strong network of people you can count on for ideas, advice, feedback, and support.

Strategically expand your network

When you identify a gap in your network it’s best to engage your strong ties, aka the people in your inner circle. Let them know what you’re looking for and ask for help and information.

Join groups that are representative of the gap in your network. Add people to your network who reflect issues, jobs, industries, and areas of interest. Join the professional associations that represent your desired career path. Attend conferences, read articles, and keep up with the lingo of your desired field.

Don’t just accept anyone into your network, this could be a time and energy zapper. There is a delicate balance between staying open when it may not be clear where something will lead and aimlessly saying yes to anything and anyone.

A note regarding LinkedIn – for this network to be valuable, you should only accept those you’ve actually met or were introduced to and want to actually stay connected to through meaningful interaction. If you accept anyone, then the tool is not being used correctly and it’s not a valuable network.

Remember Self-Care

A job search can be a challenging and draining process, if you let it. It takes a lot of work to find a work situation that’s the right fit: one that honors your values, is meaningful work, has the necessary compensation and benefits, offers growth and learning, and anything else that you determine important. These are a lot of factors that need to be considered thoughtfully.

So pace yourself, take note of your energy, mindset and overall health. Also, remember that you don’t need to look for a job alone and can and should ask for help. This is why networking is a critical piece of the job search puzzle: finding the perfect job is very difficult without the right support.

Are you currently looking for a job? If you need help developing and executing your plan, I’m here for you, just reach out.