There are two common comments that students and clients will commonly present to me in a first meeting about a job search, and these comments will immediately let me know what’s wrong. The first is “I’ve sent out at least 1,000 resumes, and am not getting any interviews.” Of course, that one’s easy to explain. The job seeker is depending on non-targeted, passive search methodology which simply won’t work 99% of the time. Success here is equivalent to incredible good luck with very low odds.
The second, and the topic for this piece, is “I’ve met with at least 40 people so far in trying to build an effective network, and it’s not working. I feel like I’m spinning wheels.” Or, “I’ve met with a bunch of people, and have really enjoyed it – but nothing’s happening.”
I’ve learned that there can be at least six possible reasons why the networking might not be working.
Are you approaching your search in high-activity blasts or are you moving it along with a consistent pace? If you’re working full-time, then that means that you should aim for at least one live meeting a week, and should do something job-search related every day of the workweek, even if it means only 15-20 minutes daily. That would include research, record-keeping (essential), email writing, following up.
If you’re not working full-time, your goal should be 4-5 meetings a week, with every other aspect mentioned above amped up significantly. Job search is a full-time job.
Time off is ok for mental health during what is always a difficult effort, but not for long periods, i.e., the period between Thanksgiving and New Years Day or summer. A loss of momentum will make the search much longer overall, and any good relationships that have been started will lose impact. Trying to restart an interrupted search is difficult and frequently demoralizing. Keep it going as part of a regular, structured schedule.
Who are these “right people?” Relationship-building efforts are usually built around peers, at least at the beginning. This is great for getting good information, finding out about markets, penetrating organizations that interest you, and getting some affirmation that the target is a good one. Over time, meeting peers can be a major wheel-spinner. Why?
Peers are usually not the decision makers.
After building a peer-based network, the goal should be to get those contacts to introduce you to others, who can get you to decision-makers. That’s a major objective.
This is where those in career transition may get lost. A meeting is not about having just a pleasant chat, and then hoping that things will just move in the direction you want.
The answer to this problem is simple, which is to structure the meeting with questions. There are three basic types of questions that should be utilized.
First, the personal connection. This is the “chat” part, the small talk, the possible exploration of the other person’s career. The humanizing aspect that can make you memorable. It’s always a good idea to ask “So how did you get to this place in your career?” It appeals to ego, gets the other person talking, and…you might find some possible new ideas for yourself.
Second, and this is the bulk of the questioning, information and advice questions. Information questions are designed to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about, and have done your homework. These are going to be questions oriented towards what the organization does and what you’ve learned about them. Advice questions are personal, about what they may perceive about your potential market, about how they think you might fit into that market, and suggestions about how you might best position yourself. Of course, you never would ask for a job, because that would put them and you in an awkward position, with a low odds chance for actually uncovering something at that moment.
Third, and at the very end of a conversation, building your network. This could be in the form of “Would you suggest anyone I speak with, in the same manner we’re speaking today?” or “I have a list of organizations I’m interested in; what do you think of the list?” With the latter question, it’s a direct cue to get the person to think specifically about those companies – and whom he/she might know there, but without putting them on the spot.
If you can hit one of these three benchmarks, you’ve had a successful meeting. If more, you’ve had a great one. But it won’t work because of…
One meeting won’t accomplish much. Your goal is to create a relationship over time, so that when your contact hears of a possible situation, they think of YOU. Of the six pitfalls of networking, this is the key one, in my estimation.
Follow ups include the thank you email immediate after the meeting. This is not just a perfunctory thank you or plain etiquette; it’s a thank you, plus a recap of what you discussed – as a reminder of who/what you are. Your branding. Maybe you could add something that you didn’t get to discuss.
Another subsequent follow up could be a second thank you if you’ve made contact with a referral from that person.
Yet another could be a quick question.
Even another could be an article you have read that might be of interest to your contact.
Basically, this is sales technique, a method for keeping in touch with someone over a period of time, and keeping your name out there. You won’t do this with everyone because not everyone will be supportive or helpful or particularly responsive.
Active listening in all meetings is important. One of the critical aspects of building new relationships is to hear opinions and experiences – both of which could give you new ideas. Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of going on automatic when either meeting new people or even on job interviews. You’ve got your pitch down, your stories ready, your answers to difficult questions all queued up.
It’s important to be flexible, and be able to think and improvise a bit. You want to be responsive to what the person is saying and adjust accordingly. Sometimes, an opinion or experience can totally shift the direction of the conversation - and the search.
This is the psychological part. There is always a significant amount of rejection in transition. There is also too much bad advice and bad behavior, which has to be sifted carefully, not to mention the negative advice. Make sure that your decisions are based on several opinions, and not just one or two.
How to deal with rejection? Or the sense that you’re feeling as though you’re walking around with hat in hand asking for handouts? You must internalize the notion that all of this relationship building is a business proposition, on both sides. There’s just as much in it for them as there is for you. Hard to realize that, right? Smart professional people understand that the more people they know, the better. Even the incredibly busy ones.
Very few of my clients and students actually enjoy networking. Only the true mega-extraverts do. The skill can be learned, and even end up being somewhat comfortable. As the numbers will always show, it’s statistically the highest chance for success, by far, of all job search methodologies.
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