I often see the reluctance in job seekers’ eyes when I tell them they need to network. For many, it may conjure up unpleasant images of insurance salesman shoving his business card at people during a Chamber of Commerce mixer. They may imagine uncomfortable rooms filled with uncomfortable people and worse yet, having to approach total strangers. If that’s what you think, then it is time to change your view of networking!
Dictionary.com defines networking as a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest. Nowhere in that definition does it say anything about giving your business card to as many people as you can.
Networking activities can take many forms, both formal and informal, but at its heart, it is about talking to people building connections. The term networking may be relatively new, but people have always formed connections and communities. You’ve been talking to people all of your life, so surely you can network!
For those of you new to the idea of networking, concentrate on informal networking. Think of your friends, family and existing social contacts, and people you may encounter in your daily life. When the subject naturally comes up about your job search, do mention what type of career opportunity you are looking for. Make sure you are able to clearly and concisely articulate your goals and the type of position you’re looking for. If not, you are missing out on huge networking opportunity. I actually have a family member who got a fantastic job through a stranger he met at a wedding.
Remember, the goal is to learn about others, connect, and let the conversation develop organically; don’t force your agenda. Take a genuine interest in others. Ask questions, share information, and listen more than you talk, look for common points of interest over which to connect. If having met for the first time, follow-up after the initial interaction to strengthen the fledgling connection.
Because the hallmark of networking is sharing and support, it is important that you learn how to graciously ask for assistance. At one time or another, we have been put on the spot by someone wanting something from us. Don’t let that be you. A soft way to ask for help is to use what I call “The Magic Working Question.” It can do wonders for the most timid or reluctant networker.
Practice the question, “Do you know anyone I might want to talk to?” and use it whenever the conversation warrants. The beauty of the question is that provides a soft way to ask for help, which doesn’t put the other person on the spot. They may volunteer advice for referrals, or they may simply say “no,” in which case you can simply go on talking and can bring the conversation to its natural conclusion.
For more on working basics and to learn how to harness your natural strengths to your strongest networking advantage, complete the Networking 101 Styles Assessment and Networking 101 Styles Action Plan. Then, click here to watch a recording of the webinar “Networking 101.”
Ann Martin is a career services advisor at University of Maryland University College where she has worked for more than five years. She holds a master’s in mental health counseling from Bowie State University. As a mid-life career changer, she feels uniquely qualified to assist adult students in transforming their lives and finding their place in the workforce.