|Oooh, look at my diverse group of new professional contacts!|
So, last week I did a little piece on a crucial job search skill: the all important job interview. Now, you may not think that job searching skills fall into my big three reasons for blogging, but I would argue that there are few things more political and more connected to pop-culture right now than job hunting. Regardless, lots of people seemed to enjoy my post, so I thought I'd do another, this time on an sometimes over looked job searching skill: networking.
Ummm, What the Hell is Networking?
Asked no one...as most people are very familiar with the concept and the term. Or at least, they think they are. The problem is that most people who aren't in Politics or sales shudder at the thought of networking. If you type in "I Hate Networking" into Google, you get 92.1 MILLION hits. I'm not even kidding. Now, you get more if you put in "love" instead of "hate", but still, that's a lot.
When I was searching around the internet trying to figure out why so many people don't like networking, I started to get at the reason why: they're thinking about it all wrong! A good illustration of what I think the "wrong" way of looking at networking is can be found at a copywriters blog here. For this person, networking is simply going to events, talking about yourself, and failing. Yes, I would hate that too.
For me...networking is a very different animal.
So What Can I do Differently?
Well, there are some really good and inspiring thoughts out there on networking if you know where to look. One of my favourite posts of all time on the topic is from Tim Ferris. This dude can seem a bit crazy, but his advice is amazing and worth reading. But not all of you want to contact The President of the USA or the head of a major corporation. Most of you just want 5-10 people, who you can sit down with over coffee and talk to about your career path.
The first thing you have to realize about networking is that if you do it in an honest way, i.e. you're trying to forge a relationship, rather than simply using someone for a job, people respond really well. I've cold called people, or asked people I've just met out for coffee simply because "I find your background really interesting and would love to pick your brain a little". We are all human beings, and hearing that from a stranger that they think you're cool and want to provide you with a free beverage is pretty great.
Key Element #1 - Stop being afraid, most people are more than willing to chat, and if they aren't, don't worry about it and move on to others.
One of the best pieces of advice I got about networking was to have a coffee with someone you don't know very well, who is more senior than you, once a week. Now, this isn't always possible, but once a month definitely is, and you can build from there. Once you have a meeting, I think it's really important to take a hands up approach to your interaction, i.e. see the conversation as looking for mutual benefit, and offer help freely. Think about all the help you can give the person and put it out there. Don't ever doubt that job karma exists!
Key Element #2 - You may not realize this, but you have the ability to offer help to people far more senior than you, and it is in the giving of help that you are most likely to receive.
Once you have created honest and real connections with 5-10 people, or at this point maybe advocates, you can begin seeding the idea of your job hunt. One of the best conversations I've ever had with one of my advocates was with the CEO of a TV company who sat down at coffee with me and simply said "what are you looking for, and how can I help?" I was blown away. I mean, this person is quite literally amazing, and here I was getting their help.
The name I give to this is activating your network, and is a powerful part of any job search. Now, it's not necessarily about getting a job WITH your that person from your network, note that I don't currently work at a TV company, but through my network have been connected to many amazing people that have led to jobs. As long as you have a clear, or clear-ish, idea of what direction you want to head in, people can be endlessly helpful.
Key Element #3 - Don't start activating your network until you've done some real thinking about where you want to go next, and possibly where you want to go after that!
Look at it this way, even people who REALLY want to help you can only do what you ask of them. If you say "you know, I think want to work in an office...." well, jeez, you're in big trouble. You don't have to have it all figured out right now necessarily, but you do need to be able to articulate the key points about what your next job should have.
I'll be honest, I've been told on a few occasions that I need to go away and figure out what I really want to do because I wasn't clear enough. But that was good advice, and led to better places in the long run. So do your homework, and dig deep to figure out what you really want to be doing.
None of this will work for 100% of people 100% of the time, but if you follow these three key elements you'll be well on your way to developing a solid network. I don't care whether you work at Starbucks or TD Financial, find people more senior than you and start a conversation. You'll be amazed what can happen when you do!
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