Interval approach to networking might be healthier

Have you heard of interval training for physical fitness? For example, a runner might sprint all-out for a short distance, then slow down or even walk, then run hard again.

When expanded to a time span of days instead of minutes, interval training might mean a focus on different muscles or different levels of cardio intensity from one day to the next.

Emerging exercise science suggests that short spurts of intense training can produce better results than longer periods of less-intense work. Some trainers also believe that the variation can help exercisers maintain an interest in routines that might otherwise become stale.

What if job seekers modeled their networking activities after the concept of interval training?

Suppose you’ve been trying to network with new people day after day, or else that you’ve been hitting only a few people over and over. In the first situation, you risk wearing yourself out, and in the second situation, you risk wearing out others.

So, what if you approached the problem with an interval mindset? In that scenario, you might set aside one full week out of every four or five to do a round of networking emails, calls or meetings with your established network. Then, you might devote part of another week to developing new contacts.

That leaves a window of two to four weeks, depending on the interval you’ve chosen, where you’d do almost no networking and focus instead on other aspects of your search, such as direct contact to managers to present yourself as a candidate for potential openings.

This is a good place to note that in my world, direct contact to department managers you want to work for is not networking. I think of this as straight-up job search as in, “Hello, I’d like to work for you. Can we talk about your near-term staffing needs for a skilled …?” Only when those calls and letters elicit a “No, thank you,” does that manager go onto the networking list.

This can be a confusing distinction for job seekers to make. On the plus side, many people have absorbed the truth that most jobs aren’t filled through postings. Since the decisions are more often made behind the scenes than through the online system, whom you know is a critical element of a successful search.

Initially, that makes one think the solution is networking. But here’s the rub: Networking is only the solution if you’ve been networking all along and have a good collection of people who already know and respect you. But if you don’t have an established network, you’ll need a different process to become known to the decision-makers. You don’t have time to cultivate deep relationships if you need a job now.

Which brings us back to interval training. Instead of battering away at the networking on a daily basis, the better model when you need work now is to separate networking from job search process. Networking is about developing relationships, and that’s not something you can force to happen.

Effective job search process, on the other hand, is simply a matter of making yourself known to the decision-makers so they can hire you instead of someone else. People do prefer to hire someone they know, so if you introduce yourself to department managers, you will instantly become someone that person knows. If you can have a meeting or discuss their upcoming staffing needs, they will know you even better — perhaps well enough to offer you a position, even if they weren’t advertising an opening.

I think job seekers should refrain from calling the outreach to decision-makers “networking.” When it’s called that, candidates bog things down by trying to become friends with managers who simply want to run their departments, while over-contacting people in their network when there’s nothing new to say.

If the networking process has been a dilemma for you, maybe a shift to an interval mindset is the answer. And heck, while you’re putting together your interval schedule, you might as well pop some exercise on the calendar.

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Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

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