You walk into a room filled with people. You look left. You look right. All you see are dozens of people wearing "Hi, My Name is ____" badges. You panic. You want to run and hide. "I don't want to make small talk with these strangers," you cry to yourself. But alas, you're here, at the dreaded networking event. Anxiety sets in. You want to go home and never go to another networking event again.
It doesn't have to be this way. We all make excuses for not networking: "I don't want to sell myself," "I don't want to impose on anyone," "It feels sleazy," "I hate small talk." There are many more excuses, but they all miss the point:
Networking is a valuable tool that enhances your job search, your career advancement, and enables you to find a satisfying and rewarding career path and more.
Overcoming the resistance to networking is crucial to your career, job search, and life.
Why Does Networking Matter?
In every area of your professional life, having colleagues, mentors, advocates and/or teachers benefits you. These individuals make up your network. They offer insight into challenges, connections with other professionals, an 'inside' perspective of an organization or support during a crisis. There are a multitude of areas where you need and use networking, from your job search to giving back to your community; and you may already be networking without realizing it. Read below to understand how networking works in everyday situations, and how to make it work for you.
Networking is Essential to Your Job Search
This use of networking is one that we're most familiar with. Whether you are unemployed or want a move from your current employer to a new organization, the assistance of others is critical. When hundreds of resumes are submitted for one position, having a personal endorsement or recommendation can get you the interview. Differentiating yourself from a pool of resumes shows your value to a potential employer. Also, when you speak directly with the hiring authority, as opposed to Human Resources or a Recruiter, you get an inside track to the hiring process.
Networking in this case starts with letting your close friends and family know you're in the job market and clearly defining for them what type of work you're looking for and the people you'd like to meet. Then, you ask for an introduction or contact information with permission to use them as a referral.
Making new contacts is much easier when your friend Bob connects you: "Mr. X, my colleague Bob encouraged me to call you to discuss Widgets International. I would appreciate a few minutes to talk to you about your company and my experience." With each contact, be sure to follow-up with a request for additional contacts as well as with a thank you note.
The networking naysayer is thinking: "I don't want to impose on Bob. Why would he want to connect me with his colleague? I don't have any connections useful for him." The networking pro knows that any connection is a valuable connection, whether or not you receive an immediate benefit. Most people enjoy connecting people they respect with others, and view the introduction as an opportunity to provide benefits for two people at once. It reflects well on the referrer...if it's a good match, everyone involved is thankful for the referrer's awareness and kindness.
Networking for Promotion
You're doing well in your job, you like the company you work for and you want more. You want more challenges, more opportunities, and more compensation. You're ready to move to the next step professionally. You boss constantly acknowledges your work and is very supportive, but she is not the only one who makes the promotion decisions.
This is where networking impacts the promotion process. When the decision to promote is being made you want everyone, especially decision makers, within your organization to know about you, the work you do and the contributions you make. Your direct reports, colleagues and supervisor think highly of you, but do others outside of your department?
How do you get people to know and endorse you if you don't work with them regularly? Here are just a few examples:
- Volunteer for projects that extend outside of your department.
- Seek internal training opportunities that expand your knowledge in other areas of the company's business.
- Attend brown-bag lunches on topics that aren't directly related to your work and ask insightful questions.
- Write a white paper on a topic which requires you to research other areas of your organization and ask to distribute it or present it firm-wide.
- Attend an occasional social event and introduce yourself to someone who is doing work you're curious about.
These examples are 'planting seeds' and each can grow in to an opportunity to allow others to learn who you are and how you enhance your organization.
We can hear the naysayer: "This will never work. It requires too much time and energy and takes me away from my job. I'm not good at schmoozing." The networking pro knows that this process isn't in addition to your job - this is essential to moving ahead. You build time in to your week to learn, connect and share. This isn't schmoozing, this is being genuine and curious, and therefore makes connections that are easy to maintain.
Networking to Build Your Business
If you're a small business owner or entrepreneur, networking can have a critical impact on your business and bottom line. You already know that you want everyone to know about your product or service and its benefits, and networking helps bring this to fruition. As a business owner myself, I had the feared vision of attending a 'networking meeting' with 40 strangers trying to figure out how to give them all my business card. I didn't want to do that and I never have.
The way to use networking in this capacity is to find the activities and actions that fit with you, your business and your preferences. If you enjoy being in a crowd and introducing yourself to others, find lead groups and professional networking groups where you can mix and mingle. If you prefer one-on-one connections, arrange coffee or lunch meetings where you can share your business and provide something useful to your contact. And, if you prefer not to leave your office, you can utilize various networking websites (LinkedIn, Ryze, Ecademy) to help build your word-of-mouth.
The naysayer is moaning, "I hate this...I want to work in my business, not doing this stuff that pulls me away from what I do best." The pro knows if you don't get the word out about your business, it likely won't be around in the future. And, in order to keep up with this, you need to find methods that match with your personality and preferences in order to actually enjoy it.
Networking to Expert Status
You love your work and are feeling professionally satisfied - but you want a bigger impact. You want to share your knowledge beyond your department, company, profession or community and get recognition for your accomplishments. Whether you want to grow a business, get media coverage, run for elected office or become a star, the more people that know about you and your expertise, the more likely this will happen.
Once you are clear on the value you can provide, you take a similar path as stated above regarding promotion. This time, though, your targets will be broader. Look for opportunities to connect with other experts in your field or related fields, find professional associations who are interested in your knowledge, and speak with journalists that write about your expertise. As with all networking, provide them with something useful - information, presentations or other connections - and they will want to do the same for you.
The expert naysayer claims, "I'm too big for this...they should come to me." The pro knows that until you're Martha Stewart, Tiger Woods or Bill Gates, you may have to work to expand your reach, enhance your credibility and become famous.
Networking to Give Back
This time, it's not about you, your career or expanding your reach. It's about making a difference to someone else, your community or your world. Although networking and community service may sound in opposition, they go hand-in-hand. You may need to ask others for time, money, advocacy or information sharing. You need to spread the word about how you're helping others, so others can support you in the work you do.
Networking in this capacity means getting the word out about your passion, commitment and vision. Whether you're going to clean up a neighborhood park, help underprivileged children in your city or change national policy, you will want involvement from others. The best way to do this is to ask those who know you and your mission.
The giving naysayer says "my cause is important enough that I shouldn't have to ask of others." The pro knows that in order to get your cause funded and your dream fulfilled, you can't do it alone. The pro wants to tell everyone about their cause, because if you show others your problem you'll have more hands to help fix it.
Networking Is a Service
What do all of the scenarios have in common? Networking is a tool that provides you access to people and resources that can support you in getting what you want. When it is only about YOU, getting what YOU want, the above naysayer may have some points.
Through the above examples, you can see networking is a service.
Networking is something you provide to others, to help them while helping you attain goals. It is a give-and-take process that creates a better situation for all involved. A job searcher is connected with an employer, filling both parties' needs. A deserved promotion occurs highlighting the connector's ability to match resources to needs. Your business grows while providing valuable service. Your reputation grows while sharing your expertise to help others.
When I ask clients how they would feel if a friend, colleague or acquaintance asked them for assistance in any of the above situations, every response is always "of course, I'd be happy to help them." Remembering what you would do for others is important to keep in mind as you embrace networking.
When you next think about networking, ask yourself these questions:
- What value or service can I provide while asking for assistance
- What type of interaction feels most comfortable to me regarding networking?
- How can I incorporate the service of networking into my daily or weekly routine?
- How can I stay curious and have fun with the people I want to meet?
- How do I feel if someone else was asking me this same networking request?
If you feel comfortable with your answers to these questions, networking becomes a resource and a pleasure. Explore and have fun!
Copyright 2006 Julie Cohen
Julie Cohen, PCC, is a career coach. She helps her clients clarify and achieve their professional and personal goals including greater career satisfaction, life balance, leadership development and personal growth. For questions, comments or to discuss this article, Julie can be reached by visiting her website.