Sorry for YELLING in all caps, but I have heard this phrase too many times to ignore it. Here are some corollaries:
“Do I HAVE to do it?”
“What if I don’t KNOW anyone!?”
“I HATE it! My experience should speak for itself!”
We constantly read about networking. It’s the secret to cracking into the “Hidden Job Market,” whatever that is. Yet most of us don’t have a clue how to do it. What’s more, the vast majority of us are likely to be either frightened or disgusted by the thought of “influence peddling” to get what we really want and deserve – an opportunity to do a good job, have a career for a fair wage.
Why do most of us find networking so awful? Is there a networking secret, a clandestine handshake that one can learn to open the door to Career Nirvana?
No, not really. There are, however, some significant misunderstandings and misapplications of this unfairly maligned process that need to be addressed before I move on to the how-to portion of our little discussion. I liket to call them Networking Myths.
Networking Myth #1
Networking is dead. People have been using it for so long that no one has time to talk to anyone anymore. They know you’re looking for a job or a killer lead and don’t have one for you. Go away!
Nope, networking isn’t dead. If it doesn’t work, it may be that you don’t understand the very nature of the networking process. To be sure, there are people out there who have abused the process, wasting others’ time and manipulating relationships to get what they want, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t network both effectively and professionally.
Networking Myth #2
Networking is telling everyone, everywhere, all the time, that you need a job or a new career. Don’t stop until someone gives in and hires you. The more people that know you are out of work or dissatisfied with your career, the higher the likelihood that someone will help you.
Wrong again! Telling everyone you need a new job is a good way to start a career as a hermit. Most people will not be aware of opportunities right away and are likely to feel that they are “put upon” to help you. What is more, they may actually feel that they can “catch” your unhappy (un)employment status. It’s much more effective (and positive) to seek information and advice instead of job leads.
Networking Myth #3
Networking is pretending to be interested in people until they like you, then going for the vocational jugular. Ask them for a job while you have them warmed up.
Oh, please – people are smarter than that! Individuals who try to practice this mangled type of networking will soon be “blacklisted” by every potential networkee out there. A genuine desire to learn from others is the only way to make networking work for you.
Networking Myth #4
Networking is the ultimate answer. It’s not what you know, it’s WHOM you know.
Wrong again! Although extraordinarily effective, networking is only a part of the employment search process. It’s a very important part, to be sure, and something that should command a large percentage of your time. The what / who you know issue is an important one. If you have nothing to offer, and know everyone out there, you are likely to remain dead in the water. Conversely, if you are replete with knowledge and ability and are a complete unknown, you will also be vocationally adrift. Networking allows you to create the “positive visibility” you need to discover and identify opportunities.
Networking Myth #5
You need to have killer contacts, people in the corridors of power with whom you are on a first-name basis to be an effective networker.
Sorry, not true. My experience has shown that the most effective networking contacts are frequently NOT first generation contacts (the first person you talk to), but typically referrals from that contact or people that you you’ve not talked to in some time. My clients have also found that many of their best results come from people who would not appear to be at the top of the corporate ladder, people “in the trenches.” This is not to say that networking with movers and shakers is a waste of time, but that effective networking with all sizes and shapes of people from diverse walks of life has the potential to yield extraordinary results.
Networking Myth #6
Networking is a means to an end. Once you have a job, you can cut out all of this networking nonsense.
Try again! Networking, the exchange of ideas and opinions, the give and take of sharing perspectives, should be a lifelong endeavor. Developing and growing your network throughout your work and life (networking does not have to relate only to employment) will continue to enrich you personally and professionally, while providing opportunities for you to help others.
The Key to Effective Networking
Give and take. Listen and talk. Any networking session you leave without offering something in return is not a good one. Phone calls and e-mails also count, by the way. Building relationships through constantly cultivating and expanding your network not only allows you to stay plugged into the world of work and beyond, it provides opportunities for you to give back to your networkees (and others) in appreciation for all of the help that you’ve received.
So, GET NETWORKING! (Yes, I AM yelling again!)