By Kate Schaefers
No doubt you’ve heard that networking is important to landing that next job. However, in my professional experience, I find that few people utilize networking to the full extent. Networking is about building relationships, not simply expanding the Rolodex. Those who approach networking as a two way street build stronger and more effective connections than those with a “one and done” attitude.
In thinking about networking, I am reminded of the simple truths of Robert Fulghum’s bestselling book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Fulghum contends that if we merely remember basic rules we learned as children, like sharing, playing fair, and cleaning up our own messes, the world would be a better place. In the spirit of Fulghum’s simple advice, I’d like to offer my own summary of the important principles of networking and job search.
Be genuine. Sometimes job seekers get so focused on being the “right” candidate for a job that they lose their own identity in the process. Networking contacts often see through a false persona, and credibility can take a hit if a person isn’t seen (or felt) as honest. Connecting in a real way can help turn a networking or even interviewing contact into an advocate. Perfect, scripted answers to interview questions won’t take the place of being authentic.
Be considerate. When job seekers focus too much on their sales pitches and don’t attend to the people with whom they are networking, it can come across as self-serving and shallow. Be respectful of time, listen, say thank you, keep in touch, and return the favor.
Communicate often. Today’s high tech job search is a mixed blessing. We have a plethora of information available at our fingertips, but the magnitude can be overwhelming. Despite the challenges, it is vitally important to maintain ongoing contact with people. Letting people know how a lead panned out, offering regular updates, staying in touch, all are important to maintaining a relationship and staying top of mind. It’s amazing how many job seekers have a “one and done” approach to networking, thereby making it easy for contacts to forget them down the road when they may actually have a job lead.
Know what you want. A focused job seeker helps a networking contact envision concrete ways to help. Know your strengths, be clear about the types of positions you are exploring, and clearly communicate what you need, such as referrals to others in his or her network, or ideas of companies that might be a fit for you.
Maintain a positive attitude. I know this is difficult, but nothing sours a networking meeting or interview like a negative attitude. Focus on strengths, and trust that each networking meeting, and each job application, is one step closer to a job.
Be generous. In networking meetings, listen for needs, and think of ways to contribute. Be generous with your knowledge, share relevant articles and links, and even make introductions to others when appropriate. I’ve witnessed people parlay a networking meeting into a consulting project by adding “no strings attached” value. Temporary gigs provide practical experience, expand networks, and even some income, while expanding a resume.
Real barriers exist for experienced workers, like age discrimination and stiff competition for jobs. However, older workers bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the workplace. Finding ways to highlight this value is essential. Networking, when approached as a two way street, can be a potent tool for the older job seeker. With the right attitude, the road to reemployment may be long, the path winding, but the journey can be one of growth and hope. In the end, it is the simple but profound things that may make the difference.