Dictionary defines etiquette as conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority in social or official life.
With this definition as a guiding principle, etiquette is even more important in a networking situation than in others because most who are in the "taking" end do not even realize that their behaviors - and even attitudes - are making it hard for those at the "giving" end to be gracious about being considerate.
Etiquettes are the lubrication that makes things move smoothly. Ignoring them can create unnecessary friction and hurt. The reason that knowing the right etiquette is even more important in a job situation is because the state of mind most job seekers are or get into somehow makes them think that being in that state should exempt them from this courtesy. It does not matter if you are out of work looking for a job or if you already have one and looking for another. The level of stress is the same, it may just have a different level of urgency!
Practicing the right etiquette will not only get what you want, it will also help you position yourself in a differentiated way in the eyes of those who are at the "giving" end! The converse is that if you are clumsy in the etiquette department, you may not only lose an opportunity that is yours to claim, you may permanently alienate the potential employer beyond the immediate context!
In the limited space it is impossible to provide a complete guide to networking etiquette. The flavor of the tips provided here can be used to understand the basic behavioral principles that you can leverage in similar situations. When in doubt, think of the other person, not yourself! It is never your intent (always good), but your behavior that is manifest (can be boorish), and more importantly, the affect (how it makes others feel) that ultimately dictates how others respond to you!
Etiquette varies from situation to situation in networking; however, within a certain situation the etiquette can be considered a norm. The following discussion is presented for many of the steps typical during networking - social or cyber:
Networking etiquettes are flouted most frequently with unwitting consequences! How? It is perhaps because people are not even aware of the simple slipups that can cascade into a full-blown avoidance by the person at the other end of the network; amity can turn into enmity with a simple oversight, especially if you are looking to the other person to do you a favor!
The following tips are a good starting point to adopt proper "netiquettes:"
- Your successful networking is based on giving more than you take. Always keep track of what is coming your way from your network and make sure that you maintain the balance with the network owing you not the other way around. For example if you get two leads from your network in a week, give three or more back to the same network. Always manage to give in kind! Remember, that you will get back in kind, too!
- If you want to contact someone based on a tip you got from within your network, make sure that you tell the person you contacted what your relationship is with the one who gave you the contact information. You are not likely to get very far with the person you contacted anyway, if, how you got the name remains a mystery to the person and later on if that person finds out the source, you may have compromised their relationship. Always reveal the source of the referral when making new contact!
- Make sure you keep the boundaries of your expectations with each person within your network. Do not push these boundaries. Your desperation in getting what you want does not constitute an emergency on the part of the person who is trying to help you! This is why it is a good idea to keep networking a habit in times, good and bad.
- If your source gives you the name of a hiring manager, do not assume that you can directly contact that manager. Some companies have strict rules about keeping the hiring managers away from the flux of inquiries and persistent calls from interested candidates. Ask the person if it would be appropriate for you to contact the manager or if they are able to present your response to that manager. All things being equal you should prefer the former, as, then, it lets you keep track of what is going on and you eliminate a third person from getting in the way of your future interactions with that manager! If this were to materialize your way, always keep your contact apprised of what is going on by sending a courtesy copy of your exchanges with the manager.
- In addition to saying ‘thank you' every time you get help, call once in a while just to thank that person and for no other reason! Also send a thank you note in the Mail. Many consider receiving this a special gesture much more meaningful than just receiving a ‘thank you' email.
- Make sure that you keep the boundaries of when and where to call your network contact to get what you are looking for. The only contacts you should consider calling at home and at off hours are your intimate contacts, who, if they call you at such hours is acceptable to you!
- If you are using the Internet as a channel of communication within your networking group do not use emails to solicit petitions, send spam, and other messages of commercial import or the ones that promote your personal agenda. Do not send chain letters to your contacts in the network.
- Do not assume that those within your networking group share your religious, political, or social beliefs. If you foist them on the group it may retaliate by alienation!
- Do not assume that if you subscribe to an email group, such as a Yahoo! Group, that your message posted on such a board will be read and heeded by all who receive it. Many routinely ignore such group messages. If you want someone's' attention then send at least a personal message to each one!
- Keep your email messages brief and with a subject line carefully phrased to pique curiosity and get action!
- When sending someone an invitation to join your network (such as LinkedIn) make sure that you know them and that the invitation is not a surprise. Linked in policies require that you know everyone in your network. This is what increases its value to all those who join it.
- If you want someone to write you an endorsement for you (on LinkedIn, for example), the best way is to write them one first and see if they return the gesture in kind.
- When attending weekly social networking sessions stay upbeat and positive when narrating your job search experiences. Too much negativity and woebegone tales can bring down the energy of the entire meeting and eventually, people will avoid such events.
- Manage your air time at such social networking events. Make sure that others get their share of "air time" as well.
- If you are going to social networking events to overcome your deficit needs (shyness, fear of public speaking) make sure that these activities do not detract from the reason why everyone is there - to network - and not help others with a forum for their developmental needs. There are other forums for such activities such as Toastmasters.
- One way to strengthen your networking resource is to volunteer. Provide help in ways that comes naturally for you and with the talents that you have.
- When you contact someone through a referral and the person does not respond to you after two follow-ups, do not pester them.
- If you have built a large network during your job search, make sure that you keep building and nurturing that network even after you get your new job. Developing your network is an investment of time, energy, and emotions. Do not let all of that wither.
- Anyone who has gone out of their way to help you during your transition serving as a great networking resource deserves a special note of thanks. Call them and tell them just that and also send a personal handwritten Thank You! note by Mail to show your appreciation! They will always remember how much their gesture meant to you!
Dilip G. Saraf is a career and life coach and the founder of Career Transitions Unlimited, a Silicon Valley-based career coaching practice. Dilip, starting as an engineer, has changed four careers and has written five books on jobs, careers, and corporate success. He has helped reinvent over 2,500 clients worldwide since 2001. He frequently appears on CNN Headline News/ Comcast Local Edition and other media.