Steps you should take for networking

In last week’s column, we took a spin through the anxiety-laden process called networking. After identifying and discarding the common reasons people use for not networking, I presented my conclusion that networking is relevant to all fields, that it results in better jobs, and that nearly anyone can (and should) network.

I also promised that you wouldn’t have to beg every soul you know for a job, nor will you have to blurt out an “elevator speech” when you meet someone new. And, just for the challenge, I hinted that networking could actually be fun.

Even with all these upsides, you might still be limited by a fear of rejection. No one likes the idea of being shunned or even snapped at for contacting someone they don’t know.

My answer to that? Yeah, it might happen. But if it does, you’ll survive. In a good networking campaign, you’ll touch 100 people or more; it’s unrealistic to expect the same positive reaction from each one.

Gulp. Did I just say 100 people? I did, and that’s probably a low estimate. Let’s get to the steps.

1. Know what you want. If you know the job you want to do, then make a list of companies where that work is done. Speaking to people in those companies is your top networking goal. If you don’t know what you want, consider a round of informational interviews, but be warned: You need to “graduate” from this stage quickly.

2. With your list in hand, ask yourself: Whom do I know at each company? Whenever your answer is “no one,” rephrase: Whom should I know there? That would be the manager of the department where you want to work.

3. Now ask: How can I reach each person? And what do I want from him or her? From department managers, you’ll want a meeting or phone conversation, but from others, you might just need information that can be shared in an email. For example, you may want one of your contacts to provide the name of the department manager you’re seeking.

4. Once you know what you want, and from whom, start with the people you know. A call or email where you reintroduce yourself, then get to the point, is usually best.

For example: “Hello, Hillary. It’s been awhile since we worked on the Jackson project in Tucson. I hope all is well with you. Say, I need a quick favor, if it’s possible. I’m exploring options to join your firm, most likely in purchasing, but I don’t have any contacts. Would you mind giving me that manager’s name and contact information? I can take it from there, so no need to put yourself to more trouble. Advice is always appreciated, though. Thanks much, and be sure to tell me how I can return the favor.”

5. Now it’s time to contact your future boss. With luck, Hillary will have offered some tips, or even made an introduction; if so, it’s now a warm contact. If not, just follow the steps you’ll use for other situations where you don’t know the person: Write to the manager and introduce yourself, then get to the point by asking for a conversation or meeting to discuss the potential of working for him or her.

You’ll likely need to follow up with a call to prompt the appointment; even so, not everyone will say yes. In fact, you should probably expect as few as 10 percent to agree, depending on your industry and its need for workers -- which is why you could be contacting 100 or more people before you get close to an offer.

Are you gasping for air yet? Perhaps you’re wondering what happened to all those nice meet-and-greets that you thought networking was about. It’s ironic if I’ve actually made you nostalgic for a roomful of people and a “Hello” name tag.

The thing is, those meetings aren’t the best form of networking for job seekers. They can be important sources of information and a great way to get some of the names you need to start this cycle. But if you rely on only those sessions to get your next job, you’ll be eating a lot of little cheese squares with toothpicks.

The good news is that the process I’ve described here is a lot more productive. While you never know who will come to an industry meeting, you always know whom you’re planning to call. Even if you score only 10 conversations from 100 contacts, they’ll be meaningful discussions with people who have the power to hire you or to refer you on. And that’s when networking gets fun.

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