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Most people know that networking is the key to job search success. But most people also hate doing it. Here are some of the common complaints and suggestions for overcoming them:
Most people are quite sympathetic to anyone looking for work, because they are so grateful that it’s not them! Therefore, they are usually willing to help. However, they are also likely to be busy, with limited time for conversation.
Solution: Keep emails, voice messages, and conversations short and simple. State who you are, how you got the person’s name, and how they can help. Don’t make time-consuming requests. In most situations, asking for a 10-minute phone call is reasonable, but asking to have lunch is not.
Job seekers are often uncomfortable discussing why they left their job, embarrassed to be looking for work, and uncertain about how to ask for help. Since they are seldom in this situation, they don’t have a standard way of discussing it.
Solution: You need a script for networking. You don’t have to recite rehearsed lines word for word, but you do need a plan. If you wing it, you may not make a good impression, so develop a paragraph or two that says who you are and what you want. You will need a separate script for emails, voice messages, and introductory conversations. For example: “My name is Mary Smith. Bob Johnson suggested that I get in touch with you, because I was recently laid off from my accounting position at XYZ Corporation. Bob thought you might be able to suggest some other people for me to contact. If we could schedule a five-minute phone call, I would really appreciate it.”
Effective networking means casting your net as widely as possible, so there’s no way to avoid stranger contacts. The whole point is to use “people you know” to get to “people you don’t know” so that you eventually start getting job leads.
Solution: First, network with friends, relatives, and neighbors. This will serve as a good “warm up” for talking to strangers and give you a chance to refine your script. When you contact strangers, always use the name of the person who referred you to them. A personal connection will make them more responsive. When meeting strangers at a social event or professional gathering, start the conversation by asking appropriate questions. (“How do you know the bride?”, “What company are you with?”, “Why did you decide to attend this workshop?”) Then gradually work into a discussion of your job search.
Novice networkers assume that they are trying to contact people who might hire them. If that were the goal, your networking list would be quite short. Although job leads are the eventual objective, they are not the immediate goal.
Solution: The purpose of a networking contact is to get more networking contacts. If the person has a job lead, then that’s a bonus. Through networking, you are trying to build a list of people who might alert you to future openings. You want them to accept a copy of your resume and give you permission to email them every month or so. That way, you can touch base regularly, but without taking much of their time.
If you plunge in without a plan, you will quickly find that you can’t recall whether you have already talked with John Jones or Brenda Brown. And if you have, making another introductory phone call would seem really stupid.
Solution: From day one, you need to keep a networking database. Using a table or spreadsheet, list each networking contact, their email address and phone number, the dates you contacted them, and the result of each contact. Keep this information up-to-date.
It’s only the same to you. Each conversation is new to the person you are speaking with. So you want to be sure that you don’t start sounding mechanical.
Solution: Even if you have said the same thing 100 times, you need to sound fresh. Don’t repeat your “script” word for word. Keep your comments conversational.
Any job search is a frustrating experience. You have no idea how long it will last, and until it ends, you are constantly getting rejected. Not exactly a prescription for happiness! But if you sound unhappy, no one will want to hire you.
Solution: Before making networking contacts, you must be in a positive frame of mind. Do whatever will be a “mood lifter” for you – take a walk, play upbeat music, call an encouraging friend, or whatever works. To keep energy in your telephone voice, try standing up or smiling while you talk. When talking face-to-face, smile, be friendly, and show an interest in the other person. On truly down days, do something other than networking. For more suggestions, see Fighting the Job Search Blues.