Make Networking Work!

The most important thing you can do for your job search is to reach out to connect with others in either informal or formal job search networking situations. They will have ideas which are new to you , as well as a different way of seeing things. Experiencing their fresh view will help you to broaden your perceptions so that you will see more opportunity. You will soon meet some people who are doing things in a niche which matches your interests and abilities. In interacting with them, you will take on the culture of that niche and this will help you to be seen as a player in it.

As you network, your partner may know people you can talk with to find out more about the interests you are discussing. You may get a referral to a thought leader. You may get a referral to someone who works in a company which has a job opening you like. You can interact with that person, and ask if he or she can get your resume pushed to the top of the pile.

The  key to having a fun brainstorming session is briefly talking about what you want to do and then  listening. Career mixers are a potential opportunity to interact and get some meaningful information. Use your social intelligence to get the other person talking about his or her interests and then move to topics that can help you. I have heard people talk about all kinds of things at these mixers, such as reasons why the person was laid off, their ideas about what they can do next, and schools they are considering. None of these topics takes into consideration the possible interests of the other person and none directly leads to beneficial topics in most situations.

In one example at a popular job seeker - recruiter mixer, an accountant said that he had been in charge of a team to create new accounting procedures in a company which his firm had recently acquired. The project was finished and he was out of a job. I asked him to explain what he had done. He talked about what he did as if I were also an accountant. After a couple of minutes I could tell that he was good at dealing with complexity. When I commented about this his eyes brightened and he said, "Yeah!" That phrase matched with something he knew he was good at and wanted to do. I then suggested that he use that as a way to introduce himself because a lot of people in the room might be able to think of accounting situations which involved complexity, whereas not many would know of situations where the merging of accounting systems he was describing could be directly utilized. The way he was talking left people who were not accountants in a daze.

There is a better way. I asked him to try out this new networking dialogue format: make a summary statement about his past experience, state a competency that the other person might be able to relate to, and then give an example which would enable the person to picture him in action. He agreed and then said this:

"I have over 10 years of accounting and systems experience in which I was able to use my interest in organizing complex situations. For example, we acquired a company with a unique accounting system. I led the group that assessed the exact situation, involving coordinating the research efforts. I asked my team members questions that showed  the extent of their probing and I pushed for deeper research where needed. I then organized the discussion about the best way to merge the systems, and this led to a proposed process. The switch-over was completed without a hitch."

This involves stating a competency and giving an example in the STAR format. The STAR format is one great way to give a compelling and dramatic example. State the Situation. Identify the Task or agenda for you. Enumerate some Actions. Then, include a Result showing what changed from your point of view. The actions you describe paint a picture of you that people can see.

With this statement about himself he was able to engage others in conversations that were helpful to him. That room contained people who would listen and provide helpful responses only if he used his social skills and spoke about himself in a helpful way at a good opportunity. He was able to connect with others, boosting his attitude.  He got suggestions about viable directions and companies.

Networking is easier said than done. Some people hesitate to initiate it until they clearly see that there is no other option. They then discover that it is often an emotional boost, and make it a part of their job search weekly plan. Recognize that you might be in an emotional deficit. Everyone feels that admitting that their career is at a crossroads feels like they are admitting failure. But you can also recognize that there is always a person you will feel comfortable approaching and talking with, and that your confidence in your networking technique will improve with practice. Start by networking once a week no matter what, and work up to three times a week.