This is a three-part series written with Dr. Paul Kosempel, leadership faculty member, Assistant Director of the Pioneer Leadership program at the University of Denver. Paul also wrote his dissertation on the topic of mentoring. Read Part One: Get your act together, here.
Now that your act is together, it’s time to get thoughtful about networking.
We shouldn’t have to tell you this, but you won’t find a job without help, and you won’t get help without a network of supportive people. If you think landing a job happens with resumes and cover letters, check out this study. Or this one (PDF).
Remember this: rare is the contact in your network who will actually hire you. More common is the person who puts you in touch with someone in your target company. Or asks a hiring manager to put your resume at the top of the pile. Or simply gives you an insight to the job you’re interested in.
The gold in your network is found in relationships, and the expansion that happens when you build those relationships. Not in the immediate.
If you’re just now building your network, here’s the bad news: The most enduring networks are built when you don’t need one. Why? Because you can spot a person building a network with their own aims in mind a mile away. It’s exactly like spam in your social media stream. When someone is out for themself, they stink up the joint.
We’ll say it again: Networking is about relationships. There are people with feelings and limited time behind the contacts you make. If you’ve ever heard the adage “if you want something done, find the busiest person,” a similar truism applies for the people who will help you with your job hunt. If they’re the type of person who’s taking the time to help you, they’re doing the same for other people. It’s their nature, but it keeps them very busy with these types of activities. Honor that by developing trust and adding value.
Here are our tips for building network relationships. You won’t find the typical tips on clothing, smiling when you meet someone, or where to go to do it. These are the things that build relationships.
Learn how to demonstrate value. Without question, we see this as the toughest corner to turn for would-be working professionals. Changing your mindset from “why I’m great” to “why I’ll be great for you” can take some time and experience. But it’s everything. If you can’t translate your value into something meaningful to the person who’ll help you or hire you, you’re at a disadvantage.
So spend some time with a friend or mentor in marketing and sales, and ask them how they’d translate your Me First declarations into something that’s meaningful to the person that’s helping you. Again: It doesn’t matter that you’re great. It matters that you’ll do great things for them. Since this isn’t always second-nature to people, you should find someone whose living depends on the ability to do it and ask them how they’d sell you.
They’ll likely spend some time also challenging you to talk about results. Another hard thing to get your arms around, but critical. All the great stuff you’ve done or are capable of doing are – without hyperbole – decorations around the tangible results of your work. Even if you think it’s small and meaningless.
“Managed the student union coffee shop” sucks. “Served an average of 1,500 students every morning” shines.
“President of the Students Against Bad Things” is lame. “Launched the first social media campaign for SABT, generating an online following of over 1,000 fans” is nails.
“Studied a semester abroad in Zambia” is stale. “Contributed research to an NGO in Zambia for clean water projects” is heavy.
Always – always – follow up with the contacts made for you. The people helping you value their network too, and if they’ve gone out on a limb to make a connection for you, it damages their network if you don’t follow through. Always take the meeting (or at least try). If it doesn’t lead to something valuable for you, it was valuable for the person who set up the meeting. Send your thank you note and move on, but always take the meeting.
Find the right person to help you. Stop wasting your time casting wide nets. Focus on developing a strong relationship with a few key people who see value and will invest in you. And in order to develop that relationship, get to know that person beyond their work role. Knowing their hobbies and interests will help you provide something of value to them. Be creative and think of the ways you can be of value. Offer to help them with work projects. Watch their dog when they take vacation. Introduce them to someone who doesn’t need anything from them. Share a resource with them about one of their interests. Find something – anything – that will make your relationship mutually beneficial.
Get someone to invest in you and stop scattering your business cards to hundreds of people who forget your name (if they ever noticed it in the first place).
Don’t forget the people that are helping you. Don’t be afraid that you will bother people who have offered to help you. Most job seekers have one meeting with a contact, send a thank you note and then write it off as dead. Realize your value and follow up with your contacts. People who have offered to help have already seen your value and are beginning to invest in your success. Show them that you are treating that investment wisely by keeping in touch and following up consistently.
Stop networking and start volunteering. Instead of paying money for expensive networking events that are hard to make impressions in, volunteer to sit on a working committee for that same organization. Meet people more regularly and develop relationships. Add value, demonstrate what you can do. Get mentioned and thanked in front of the rest of the suckers at the event that you just saved time and money avoiding.
Learn and practice this: when networking, don’t say anything about you until you have learned three things about the person you’re talking with. This will force you to ask questions, understand, gain insight, and develop a relationship. How many people do you consider friends who only talk about themselves? Same principle applies in the professional world.