By Cathie Ericson, Writer and Public Relations Expert
Networking…ugh, why does the very term sound like so much WORK? And if you’re actively job searching it can seem even more daunting. Of course, in today’s fluid work environment, we are all “job hunting” to some extent so networking should never stop. But, for job searchers it looms even larger.
Here are the Top 10 Tips for making networking work for YOU!
1) Change Your Mindset
Networking doesn’t have to be scary. Or hard. Or a waste of time.
Because it’s really just a fancy business jargon-y word for “getting to know someone.” And who doesn’t want to do that? Now doesn’t that make it sound more fun?
2) Take That New Mindset to Help You Network Everywhere
“Networking” no longer means a chamber of commerce meeting, a business mingle-y lunch or some other contrived setting. I mean, those are tried and true places to meet professionals and I recommend taking advantage of any opportunity that presents itself. But now it is so much easier because there are so many more choices for finding like-minded professionals, meaning that you can customize to the scenario that makes you feel most comfortable.
That might be joining a group on LinkedIn, chatting with parents at a school function, meeting other solo-preneurs at a coffee shop or volunteering for a political campaign.
3) Say “Yes”
Have you seen Jim Carrey’s movie “Yes Man?” It is a goofy illustration of how great things can happen to people who say yes, opening them up to opportunities. Did another job hunter ask you to lunch? Boy, what a waste of time and a $6 sandwich. But is it? Maybe they have sources you don’t, or know of a job that would be perfect for you.
Did someone invite you to volunteer with their organization? The last thing you need to do is work for free, right? Of course not! Volunteering is an excellent way to build your skills in a supportive environment, while — of course — meeting people! Be judicious of course, and try to find opportunities that match your interests but for the most part saying yes puts you in the path of opportunity.
4) Put Your Best Foot Forward, Figuratively and Literally
It goes without saying that you want to project a professional demeanor. That doesn’t mean you have to dress like a Wall Street banker on the sidelines of a soccer game, but it means that you should try not to look shlumpy no matter where you go. And it’s more than dress — it’s taking care of yourself through grooming and exercise. It’s making sure that you portray a positive attitude — even if you’re not feeling it. Find a trusted confidante with whom you can wallow and keep your chin up with everyone else.
And of course, spruce up our online presence. In today’s society that is where potential employers will check you out first. Make sure your profiles include a professional photo. Keep active on your LinkedIn and Twitter accounts by commenting on other people’s news, sharing articles of interest and otherwise making it clear you are engaged.
5) Have a Brief “Elevator Speech” Ready
That’s a bit of a trite expression, but it refers to having a 30-second spiel ready for when someone asks about you. Are you job hunting? If the conversation naturally turns to your job hunt, have a quick sound bite prepared as to why you left your previous job and what you are looking for. Were you downsized? No shame in that these days….lots of sympathy and “welcome to the club.” Be ready with a succinct statement about what happened… “my whole department was let go, but I took it as a sign to jump into another line of work so I am currently considering the healthcare industry” gives your listener enough to know about what happened…but more importantly…where you are headed!
6) Being Interested Makes You Interesting
We all know that people love to talk about themselves. Boy do they! But that can be an amazing advantage if you are not a master of small talk. Rather than relying on the tried and true — and boring — topic of weather, engage the person you’re talking to with a question that will get them going. Don’t make the first question — ever — “What do you do?” Too transparent.
Try: “How did you become involved with this group?” “What are your summer plans?” “What did you think of the speaker (or other topical reference)?” Even “What’s new?” Really listen to the answers and ask pertinent follow-up questions. It doesn’t mean you are stuck talking to one person all morning or evening (it’s just as useful to know how to make a gracious exit); but if you’ve let someone discuss their favorite topic — themselves — they are going to remember YOU as a brilliant conversationalist!
7) Follow Up With Those You Meet
The vast majority of people meet someone and think, “Wow, what an interesting person!” and then they file away the conversation or the business card and that’s that. To stick out in someone’s mind, follow up with them subtly…and very soon after you met.
Say you meet another mom at a soccer game and she works at a company that interests you. The next day (or two) follow up with a brief touch base. “Hi Jamie; I’m Scott’s mom. We met at the soccer tournament. I am (new in the community, just meeting people, whatever would accurately describe your situation) and I was wondering if you might have time for a quick coffee some morning — or even during soccer practice. Let me know if there’s a day that works best.”
Notice how subtle that was? You didn’t mention jobs or companies or needing a favour. You were just being friendly with a mom you met at soccer. If the coffee/soccer date ends up being made and you talk about your job situation, that’s the time to ask her about her job or company. (See Tip 8.)
Of course, you will use the same technique for people you meet in a business setting but that is much easier. Those people are expecting you to touch base with them. So don’t delay…reach out and try to take your professional relationship to the next level.
8) Don’t Put People on the Spot
If you are able to advance the relationship and have a meeting with someone, don’t ask them for a job or if they know if the company is hiring. You can let them know you are interested without coming right out and putting someone in an awkward position.
For example, if you have a meeting with someone, treat it as an “informational interview.” Going back to Tip 6, talk about them: ask them how they got into the business and how they like their current job. If you are considering an industry change, ask them more about what they do on a day-to-day basis or if they have any advice on what skills and qualities are important for someone entering the field.
9) Stay in Touch
Whether you have a meeting or not, stay in touch with those with whom you’ve connected. This can be as simple as following them on Twitter and retweeting a great post. Or sending them an article that you think might interest them, or a contact that might benefit them. Find them on LinkedIn. Engage them with information that will likely be of interest to them. But remember, the key to keeping in touch is not too much, not too often.
Was your contact largely based on your job search? Then it’s common courtesy to keep those in your network informed when you get a new job. Once that business card is ready, send a hand-written thank you note to anyone who helped or thought about helping you, announcing your great news and thanking them for their support. Now that they know where you are, who knows what other further business relationships might be forged? They could turn into trusted clients, vendors — or colleagues. It’s a simple step that very few people take — and it will be noticed.
10) Return the Favor
Yep if you have a job, people are going to be knocking on your door. Remember what that was like. Even though you can’t possibly think of one way you can help them, or one source you can introduce them to, consider that maybe they are setting self goals for setting x number of meetings. Be one of them. You never know what might transpire. (Back to No. 3, “Say yes!”)
Just as you remember who helped you — or was kind or supportive — when you were job hunting, so will they. Karma and all…
They say that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity – and that is a pretty apt description of networking as well!
by Cathie Ericson