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Networking or Schmoozing?

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I’m often asked:  If 80% of all job opportunities are never advertised, how do you begin to unearth them?  I’m a big believer in networking:  it may take work but it really does work! 

 

I was one of those people who initially thought networking was nothing more than blatant self-promotion and shameless schmoozing.  Then I watched a couple of pros in action and realized there’s a real art and science to it. 

 

Effective networking is all about: 

  • Who you know…and who knows you.  What is your profile in your community of practice?  How visible are you?  More importantly, how credible are you?  If you don’t know, consider setting up a small “advisory board” of people you trust to find out more.
  • Establishing long term relationships.  You need to be prepared to give, often before you receive, in order to forge a strong connection.  
  • How you make the other person feel.  What you say or share is important but how you say or share it is what will be remembered. 
  • An excellent way to build and sustain a career path.  There are quicker ways to find a job asap but that’s a topic for another post! 

When your dream career opportunity presents itself, you want to ensure you’re on the hiring manager’s radar screen and given serious consideration.  “All things being equal, people will do business with a friend.  All things being un-equal, people still do business with a friend”  (Mark McCormack, agent for professional golfers and tennis players).

 

So how do you become a networking pro?  There’s a range of relevant articles, compelling books and hands-on workshops on the topic but here’s a quick checklist to get you started.  Like public speaking, it’s 90% preparation and 10% delivery.

  • Brainstorm (don’t filter out anyone at this point) then compile a list of everyone you know:  family, friends, colleagues, business contacts (e.g. clients, suppliers), fellow alumni of your college or uni…This long list becomes your map as you start digging for job leads and introductions to other contacts.
  • When someone has taken the trouble to e-introduce you, respond to both parties within 24 hours (48 hours max.)…not weeks or months later.
  • Make contact fact to face wherever possible;  if not then consider phone, Skype or e-mail.  Introduce yourself and mention a connection to warm up the call (I’m Lee Anderson and Jane Smith suggested I call you).  Then quickly summarize your interest in and skills for your next position.  (I’m interested in becoming an HR generalist.  I have 5 years of experience as the shift manager of a team of 12 in a busy restaurant for a major chain and I’ve just completed my CHRP designation).
  • Stay focused by using a STAR (situation, tasks, actions, results) or PAR (problem, actions, results) model to showcase your achievements when asked those behaviourally based questions (tell me about your experience with…).
  • Always take the high road even if you have to bite your tongue!  Don’t slag anyone, particularly your boss;  burning bridges almost always will come back to bite you.     
  • If you’re meeting with an individual:
    • Ask for no more than 30 minutes and be willing to meet at the other person’s convenience even if that’s at 7.00 am or 7.00 pm or on a weekend.
    • It’s not all about you at this point:  it’s as much, if not more, about the other person!  Maybe you don’t feel like a great networker (yet!) so focus on being a great go-to person.  What is the other person interested in?  If you see an article, book, seminar, web site, etc. you think they’d appreciate knowing more about, let them know.  If you access research or ideas you think will be helpful, share them.  If you think people should meet, e-introduce them .  Set aside an hour or two each week and share meaningful info on a timely basis.  The law of abundance does kick in;  people will reciprocate! 
    • Wrap up at the 30 minute mark even if the conversation is going well.
    • Ask if they can recommend someone else you should talk with.
    • Follow up with a thank you e-mail within 24 hours (48 hours max.).
    • Stay in touch (say every 6-8 weeks) but don’t call or e-mail so often as to become irritating! 
  • If you’re networking at an event:
    • Bone up on how to work a room generally and an individual specifically.  The devil is in the details so you want to be prepared.
    • Set a goal of meeting 2-3 new people and re-connecting with 2-3 people within an hour.
    • Take the initiative to approach the other person and introduce yourself;  don’t wait in the corner for others to approach you.  Smile and be conscious of your body language;  uncross your arms!
    • Be in control of the conversation.  Ask a key question or two:  What business problems does your company solvee?  What’s your role?  What do you find most challenging?  Wrap up with:  How might I be able to help you?   
    • Exchange business cards.  Have your own business cards in one pocket and “file” the cards you receive in another (you don’t want to hand out someone else’s card as your own by mistake).  Find a quiet minute to write a note on the back of each card so you remember the person and how best to follow up). 
    • Exit gracefully.  After asking your key questions, shake hands and say:  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you and then move on, typically within 3-5 minutes.
    • Follow up with an e-mail within 24 hours (48 hours max.) to book a longer meeting over coffee or just to say:  Lovely to meet you and hopefully our paths will cross again soon.

A couple of general comments:

  • Be open to giving to others because who knows when you might need to ask to have the favour returned!
  • Determine whether you’re more comfortable networking at group events or one-on-one.  Some networking in small towns can draw the same people so you may end up having the same quick exchange of info and never really get to know an individual.
  • It can take  6 or so meetings to begin to stick on someone else’s radar so don’t become discouraged too quickly;  this is about building longer term relationships. 
  • Attitude counts!  Diane P. Gordon, founder of Etiquette Essentials  www.etiquetteessentials.ca cites Charles Swindol who says:  “Attitude, to me is more important than facts… The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day…The only thing we can do is play the one string we have and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% of what what happens to me and 90% how I react to it”.

Tom Peters, author of The Pursuit of WOW, sums it up like this:  “Put bluntly, the most potent people I’ve known have been the best networkers…they know everybody from everywhere and and have just been out to lunch with most of them”.    

 

You too can become a networking pro:  start small and watch your connections grow exponentially.  Networking may take work but it really does work!