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Is Networking Dead?
magazines, and books have declared that networking is dead!
They say that times have changed and:
No one wants to
take his increasingly valuable time to talk with someone who
probably can't offer him anything in return
So many people
are asking for networking appointments the process has lost itís
who are working view their unemployed brethren with disdain because
they unconsciously fear that unemployment might be contagious
Add to this
cultural mindset the attitudes of individual job seekers who:
networking to be a trivial social activity
process is only useful to glib professionals
Feel they are
supposed to rely exclusively on their friends for contacts
how a friendly conversation can lead to finding a job
and you have a
process that "don't get no respect".
Yet, in assuming
this negative perspective, both societal nay-sayers and job search
skeptics lose sight of an important key to human nature: people like to
associate with friends and colleagues whom they respect and trust. When
you consider the assumed ways employers find new recruits (want ads,
executive search firms, college recruiting, and an occasional direct
mail candidate), it's not hard to understand why these methods aren't
nearly as effective as networking, which fills approximately 80-90
percent of openings. Along with being a more people-friendly approach,
networking is a lot cheaper and often much less time consuming than any
other strategy for matching the best person to the job. And it offers
some intangible benefits to an employer that other techniques do not:
networking candidate makes sure her contacts know their expertise is
extremely valuable in helping her make a critical life decision, and
their egos by reiterating how their unique understanding of a
company, industry, or career is especially useful in her search for
the right niche.
How often do
stroke-deprived professionals have the opportunity to give their
opinions and know that someone is genuinely interested? For many
potential employers a networker's undivided attention is worth at least
one-half hour of their time.
employers and candidates alike, relatively few job seekers are aware of
how to develop their network or take advantage of its positive effects
on their job search, self-esteem and relationships. To get honest
feedback on what networking has done for them, how they went about it,
and what has and hasn't worked, I asked two job search veterans for
their opinions. Larry Frantz, a Fortune 500 CFO, wanted to start
his own investor relations business, and David Bell, an aerospace
engineer who opted to move into hi-tech sales or marketing support, were
both skeptical about networking for all of the reasons mentioned above.
But they were willing to give it a try. Below is summation of their
Both Frantz and
Bell mentioned that the benefits of networking were much greater than
they had anticipated. Aside from uncovering "hidden" job and project
openings, securing insider information on companies, industries,
careers, and management philosophies, and obtaining names of more people
to contact, they were pleasantly surprised to find this method of
looking for a new career:
- Gave them a
much greater sense of control over their job search than answering
ads, applying to search firms, or mounting a direct mail campaign
- Buoyed their
self esteem by proving they could network just as effectively as
their extroverted competitors
them to clarify their career goals so they could explain them to
valuable practice in relating to professionals they didn't know
- Helped them
develop skills essential for successful interviews and client
- Restored their
faith in human nature as they found their interviewees were
enthusiastic about brainstorming with them, offering advice, and
promoting their capabilities to potential employers and clients.
It seems that
contrary to networking critics, Americans still enjoy helping each
other, even if there is no barn to raise or levee to sandbag.
Even though Frantz
and Bell had generally positive networking experiences, each endured
some frustrating moments. Frantz was particularly annoyed by the people
who wouldn't take or return phone calls. As a CFO he made it a point to
return his calls within 24 hours. As a job seeker he found himself
cooling his heels for days waiting to communicate with individuals he
thought would be interested in seeing him. Some of them were even his
At first he took
their lack of response personally. He began to wonder if his approach
was wrong, or he was no longer perceived to be worth their time. But
gradually, as he persisted through the weeks, he was able to make
appointments with most of the people he wanted to see and achieve
positive results from their meetings. Eventually he concluded that
business professionals have varied impressions of proper telephone
etiquette, and an unanswered call is generally not a sign of disrespect.
challenge was the roller coaster ride of emotions he suffered when he
heard about a job opening, then couldn't get to the hiring manager, or
was judged not-qualified when he did. It took a while, but eventually
he experienced an "aha". Whenever he networked with technical people,
he was inevitably found lacking in their specialized skills. But, when
he talked with sales and marketing support reps, they encouraged him to
capitalize on his unique combination of technical and people skills.
Eventually he realized that in changing careers, his transferable skills
(communicating effectively, building rapport, etc.) were more marketable
than his engineering expertise.
At my request, Bell and Frantz have distilled their knowledge of networking into
seven key points they would like to share with you:
Always keep in mind that you are asking people for information, not a job.
A lot of networking strategies go awry because job seekers call their friends
and strangers to ask them about specific job opportunities. This approach
puts people in an awkward position. Even if they are aware of an opening, if
they don't know you, they will naturally hesitate to recommend you for it.
Often, to get themselves off the hot seat they will transfer you to personnel,
the kiss of death for many job seekers. When you make people uncomfortable
on the phone, you destroy your opportunity to build rapport face-to-face, get
valuable information, and find out about openings that may develop weeks or
months after your initial call.
Start your networking with people you know, then expand your contacts to
their acquaintances, and finally to strangers after the process. becomes
second nature. Certainly it makes sense to practice on your friends, then
move on to seeing the people they have suggested. Using a referral's name
when you call someone you don't know can be very helpful in facilitating a
But you shouldn't neglect networking with strangers just because you have no
automatic "in" with them. As David Bell points out, "Talk to everyone you
can, because you never know who will have the most useful information or take
the greatest interest in you. Aside from helping you find a job, it's a
wonderful way to make new friends, especially if you have recently moved to
the community." You can find people eager to help you at seminars and
conventions, university departments that teach classes in your field,
professional organizations, health clubs, volunteer activities, churches,
alumni gatherings, etc.
When you call someone for a networking appointment, have in mind what you
want to say to him, but don't obsess about it. Be prepared to give the name
of your referral (if you have one), state why you are calling (for
information not a job), and request an appointment to ask a short list of
questions about your contact's area of expertise. Putting these thoughts
together ahead of time can save you the embarrassment of groping for
something to say in your initial contact.
Unfortunately, while advance preparation can be a real comfort in moving into
unknown territory, it can also become a great excuse for putting off an
unpleasant task, like calling a stranger. If taken to the extreme, it can
even sabotage your communication when a phone conversation doesn't proceed
exactly as you have planned it. (Remember the awful feeling you had in
English class when you memorized a poem, then went blank in the middle of
As you make calls, you will learn from your successes and mistakes, and soon
develop a "feel" for how your conversation should proceed. It shouldn't take
long to achieve an easy balance of prepared items and spontaneous ones.
Recognize that you will have good days and bad ones, that people will not
return your calls or schedule appointments according to your timetable, that
you may resist calling important contacts because you fear rejection, and
that a sense of humor and a little persistence are invaluable to making this
process successful. Maintaining your objectivity when you are on a job search
roller coaster is easier said than done, especially if you are trying to do
it alone. A good support system of friends, fellow job seekers, a career
counselor, enjoyable activities etc. can be really helpful in smoothing out
the unrealistic highs and lows you are bound to experience.
If you dread making networking calls, figure out a plan that will be excuse
proof. Promise a friend you will make 10 contacts a week, and give her weekly
reports on your progress. Dedicate time on your calendar for just for calls.
Tell yourself you will telephone 12 people before you do any other activities.
Then reward yourself for sticking to your plan.
Prepare a specific agenda for each appointment. Do some research on the
company, industry, or career of your interviewee. Put together a list of
questions, including some that deal specifically with his background. Ask
him for advise on your job search and names of other professionals who would
be beneficial to contact.
Think about ways you might help him. Bring along a newspaper or magazine
article to pique his interest. Brainstorm some solutions for his business
problems. Suggest contacts that he might find useful.
Always follow up on your networking appointments. Aside from displaying good
business manners, a thank you note puts your name in front of your contact
again in a very positive way, tells her specifically what you enjoyed about
your meeting, reiterates how your background resonates with hers, and gives
you the opportunity to say what your plan to do next. It's an excellent
vehicle for maintaining momentum and keeping the job search ball in your
If your contact refers you to other people, make arrangements to see them,
and tell her the results. She will feel gratified that her contacts were
useful, and she will admire you for seizing available opportunities.