At the same time, it feels like we’re somehow less connected – truly connected – on a level that would be considered authentic. That is the market inefficiency you need to tap into in order to land your next great job or advance your career to the next level.
Effective networking remains the best and most powerful way to find a job. Ideally, you’re connecting with decision makers or those with the authority to hire, but all forms of information and referrals are beneficial.
The struggle to effectively network is something we hear about on a daily basis. Some individuals feel uncomfortable, others aren’t sure what to do, and even more don’t want to be fake or pushy.
Whether you’re looking for a job or just trying to build strong alliances, these general guidelines can help everyone improve their authentic networking skills, melting away those negative thoughts and feelings like ice cream in the summer sun.
Offer to Help Others First
This is where your mindset and actions need to start. The majority of individuals go into a potential networking situation with a “what can you do for me?” attitude. Yes, you’re looking for a job, but few things turn people off more than a selfish personality.
The goal should be for you to find ways to help those you’re around in any way possible. Give them the name of a contact, clue them into a job opening, offer insight into an industry or skill, or offer to pass along their resume to an appropriate person.
By extending your hand to others, it creates a positive, reciprocal feeling that will be the building blocks for a long-lasting relationship instead of asking others to do you a favor. If people appreciate your help, you will see a strong return in kind now and in the future.
Let’s say you’re at a networking event and you start a conversation with someone. Don’t jump right into a self-promoting pitch about your skills and how you’re desperately looking for a new job. Focus on your peer and his/her needs first. Here’s an example…
You: “Hi, Terry. Nice to meet you. So what are you looking to get out of the event? Are there any areas you’d consider yourself an expert in?
Peer: “Actually, yes. I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing for about 5 years now – public relations, copy editing, print ads – that sort of thing.”
“I’ve won a few awards for my work and have even been getting some gigs for major outlets. So, now I’m hoping to latch on with a marketing firm or a dedicated department where I can continue to grow and have steady work.”
You: “Well, if you’re looking to break into the marketing space specifically, a friend of mine is interested in hiring some experienced writers for his firm. I’m not sure of all the details, but I’d be happy to get some more information, give him your resume, and connect the two of you.”
Peer: “That would be terrific! Thanks a lot, I appreciate it. I’ll definitely keep you in mind should I hear of anything in your field. Do you have any copies of your resume I could have today? I’m sure I will run into people who could help you out too. What are you looking for?”
Sounds simple, but it’s easy to unintentionally portray a skewed version of your personality that makes you sound like a D-list actor fighting for a role. Don’t fall into the trap of putting on a mask you think others will like. Most people can spot a phony who is lying about who they are.
Regard the people you interact with more like a friend or acquaintance, not some opportunity. Talk like you would to an affable neighbor. Bring up topics that genuinely interest and excite you. Smile, engage, and relax. Enjoy the moments and see them as no-pressure situations.
Of course, while being true to who you are, it should be the best adaptation of you. Save the salty language, crude jokes, and other questionable antics for personal time with close friends. Nobody’s perfect, but networking contacts don’t need an unhealthy reminder of that.
By extending your hand to others, it creates a positive, reciprocal feeling that will be the building blocks for a long-lasting relationship instead of a “one-off” favor.Volunteer and Join Personal Interest Groups
While social media, networking functions, and professional groups give you an opportunity to be authentic, the best (and easiest) way to connect is through similar personal interests. You don’t even need to think about networking, just take pleasure in what you’re doing.
Whether you’re helping feed the homeless or building model airplanes, there’s an immediate bond formed amongst the group. Natural conversations are effortless and they’re almost certainly going to evolve into discussions about jobs, skills, and future goals.
Additionally, you are all doing something you love or trying to help for the greater good. The positivity, sharing mindset, and willingness to give all lead to sincere thoughtfulness for all involved. That is some serious relationship building that will certainly produce job leads for you.
A terrific example of this came up in a recent conversation I had with a colleague:
While volunteering at a school/church fundraiser, my colleague reconnected with an old high school friend. She had mentioned that soon she would be looking for a new job in the accounting field.
Fast forward a month and my colleague learned that a family business now had an opening for an accounting position. She connected her friend with the organization and they hired her after a quick interview. She didn’t even have to put together a resume!
Follow Up Early and Often
As much as networking seems like dating, playing hard to get is the worst strategy. If you say you will do something, act as soon as humanly possible. Should you have a conversation with someone looking to help you land a job, send a quick email to thank them by the next day.
It’s actually worse to neglect the follow up than to never make the connection at all. Failing to do what you say results in broken trust and tarnished credibility for that individual and anyone he or she talks to. If you ignore someone trying to help you, it creates apathy and resentment.
No matter what side of the connection you’re on, be proactive. Include personal insights from the conversations you had and details about the follow-up. Show that you vested in them enough to care about the intricacies of your relationship – whether it’s new or old.
Practice Being an Original
Keep in mind that with every conversation you’re creating an image of yourself. That includes social media interactions as well as in-person meetings. It’s certainly important to display your expertise and knowledge, but it needs to be subtle so you aren’t coming across as a know-it-all.
Try to avoid giving too much advice (if any) unless you’re prompted by an individual or the conversation clearly requires additional input. People are more likely to help someone they genuinely enjoy being around, rather than a knowledgeable person they find unpleasant.
Authentic, effective networking takes practice, just like anything else. Take a deep breath, keep these notes in your pocket, and show the world why you’re an original worth knowing.