The term “network” has carried different connotations at different times. If you’re of a certain age, the word network reminded you of broadcast television. Visions of Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News come to mind. These days, the term engenders visions of cables and routers and file servers. If you’re luck to have a job, but your local network is down, you’re likely being paid to do very little until the network is restored.
But there’s another network that can mean a lot to you if you happen to be out of work. It’s a network that relies less on technology and more on a “hands on” approach. It’s the point at which the noun “network” turns into a verb. We’re talking, of course, about networking.
Networking allows job seekers to cast a much wider net than is possible through the traditional model of waiting until something appears in the classifieds of the local newspaper. Even in tough times, there are more job openings than you know. People wired into the business community know before anyone else who is hiring or is about to start hiring. Networking is one of the best means for tapping into this information.
Now if you’re like most people you’ve got really mixed emotions. On one hand, the concept of finding leads for jobs other people don’t know about is exciting. On the other hand, having to talk to strangers about such things can make your skin crawl. Just about everyone without experience at networking has at least one objection to taking this step. This article is intended to help you overcome those objections by addressing some of the most common ones.
I Don’t Know Anybody.
Yes you do. Everybody knows people who work, and those people know people, and so on. Networking doesn’t mean shaking hands with and talking to people who have jobs. That’s a job fair, not a networking event. Occasionally, someone with whom you are networking does have a job opening, but it’s usually just luck. What you’re trying to accomplish with networking is to gather leads, generate references, and get people thinking about your situation.
You’ve probably already talked to your friends, family, and neighbors. That’s really the first step. Move beyond that inner circle by talking to those with whom you have some sort of business relationship. If you buy a pizza once a week at a certain shop, have a chat with the owner. Talk to your pharmacist if you live in a small town. Chat up the fellows at the barber shop. The more people you talk to, the wider your personal network will become. At the most basic level, your goal should be to come away with the name of someone else you can talk to. That’s a referral, and it’s a good thing. But don’t waste a referral by ignoring it.
I Don’t Have Any Place to Network.
Again, it’s highly likely that you do have places to network. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to belong to a local chamber of commerce, the Rotary Club, or Business Network International. That said, you don’t really need membership in any of these organizations to network.
Do you belong to the local PTA? Are you a volunteer fireman? How about the Knights of Columbus? While these organizations rarely hold “networking events” such as you might find at the local chamber of commerce, they all have regular meetings that you can use to your advantage. Membership in almost any organization—social, service, political, whatever—provides job seekers with entrée to people who know other people. And to network among fellow members of an organization is generally to network among people sympathetic to your problem.
We’re not suggesting that you highjack the next meeting of your son’s Cub Scout pack to make a presentation of your work history and skills. We are suggesting that the other adults involved in the Scout pack are valuable resources waiting to be tapped. Most of these meetings I’ve attended have a refreshment table, which can serve as a great way station to discuss your situation. Our church used to serve coffee and cake between services. It was an ideal time to chat up members of the congregation. The fact is, everyone has a place to network.
I Don’t Know How to Network.
Books have been written on this, so we’re only going to touch on the fundamentals. First, focus on what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re actually trying to generate leads, not job openings. Second, introduce yourself to those people you don’t know and ask them what it is they do for a living. Eventually the conversation will turn to your situation. Third, don’t monopolize the conversation or spend too much time with any one person. Finally, and this is very important if you find yourself at business-oriented networking event, dress the part of a professional.
I Tried It and Didn’t Like It. Besides, I Didn’t Get a Job.
As for the first part, we can’t help you with everything. Imagine someone who wants to build a house, but doesn’t like power saws. They can build a house without using a power saw, but it’s a lot harder and takes much longer. Networking is one of many tools. Searching for a job is a lot easier and faster if you use all the tools available.
If you expect to network once and get a job, we’d like to interest you in some swamp land in Arizona. Networking is not about instant gratification. If you send a resume in response to a classified ad—assuming that you’re qualified for the position—you have a reasonable expectation of a positive result. Even then, the positive result is only an interview and not a job. Farmers don’t plant on Monday and harvest on Tuesday. They plant seeds that germinate and develop over time. This is how networking functions. A positive result is one or two names of other people to contact. Don’t network with unreasonable expectations.
A final tip: Never network without carrying business cards. In fact, never leave home without a couple of business cards because you don’t know who you may meet during the day. And if you don’t have any cards, get some. Even if you’re unemployed, put your name, contact information, and a word or two about your skills on plain white cards. Office supply stores carry blanks that can be run through your printer at home, or there are Internet-based sources that charge very little.