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Networking Tips

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 new relationship.
    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 reciting it.)
    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 court.
    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.

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