Job Strategies: Getting excited about networking

Chances are, no columnist or career adviser is going to convince you networking is fun. I’m not even going to try. I’ll settle instead for making you less uncomfortable and maybe even a little confident. For extra credit, I’ll tell you how to make it productive. Read on, MacDuff!

1. Consider yourself a networker. I’ve heard people in the trades say, “Networking is for the guys with a briefcase.” Then I heard a stay-at-home parent say, “I don’t have anything to network about.” And then a white-collar professional told me that networking doesn’t work if you’re introverted.

Enough! As long as you believe you’re not a networker, you’re right. Embrace the label and wear it proudly. If you have ever asked a neighbor for a referral to a plumber, you are a networker. If you’ve ever helped one friend sell a car to another, you are a networker. The trick isn’t learning how to network; it’s learning how to apply networking to job search.

2. Assume others want to talk to you. Look, you really don’t know whether someone wants to talk to you. So why leap to the conclusion that they don’t? If you have to believe something, choose to believe the other person is happy to hear from you. Then it will be easier to make the contact.

3. Accept charity. There, I said it. You will sometimes receive a favor when you have no way to reciprocate. Accept the favor graciously, thank the giver earnestly, and move forward. Then remember that the giver may already feel rewarded by helping someone in need. Much as you hate to be the needy person, remind yourself: Someone has to be. Without gracious recipients, benefactors cannot experience the joy of giving.

4. Make a strategy. This is the big-ticket tip, the one that will make you more comfortable, confident and productive. When your natural networking instincts -- and you do have them -- are used for job search, you immediately encounter a situation more complex than finding a plumber. Now you’re embarking on compound networking, where one contact leads to another until you have the information or contact that you need. For this you need a strategy.

Space is short, so I’ll give you the general structure of that strategy and you can fill it in. First, you need to know what kind of job you’re seeking. Ideally, you’ll know the job title or at least the industry. You need this for the next step, which is to identify specific companies. Once you have a list of, say, 25 companies that you want to work for, and you know the work you’d like to do, you’re ready to network.

Here comes the strategy. Ask yourself: Who do I know at these companies? Whoops ... what if the answer is no one? Then ask yourself: Who do I know who might know someone at any of the companies? No one? Really? OK, go back one more level: Who do I know who might know someone who might know someone at any of these companies?

Sure, this is starting to sound silly. The most important things in life often do. Never mind how silly it sounds. Make your lists of contacts and start contacting them.

And how is it that you’re suddenly going to be more comfortable with networking than you were 10 minutes ago? Simple: Now you know who you’re calling and why. Instead of a general order to go meet people and tell them you need work (eeek), now you can identify specific people to ask a specific question: “Do you know anyone who works at zzzz company? I’d like to work there, but first I’d like to have coffee with someone to learn more about the company and get some advice. Eventually I’d like to meet the manager of the yyy department to see whether they need my help. Can you help me find a connection?”

5. Keep going. Not every conversation will be a home run, but so what? If you have enough conversations, some of them will be. And how will you know whether your networking is productive? Simple. When other people call you first, you know your name is getting out there. And when you find yourself in an interview for a job that wasn’t posted? Oh yeah, that’s productive. And that will happen if you follow these tips. What are you waiting for?

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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