How To Network…And Other Career Secrets

By Catherine Cunningham - Career Specialist - Australia

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Former Rhodes Scholars and CEOs, as well as street-smart individuals from many walks of life – I’ve sat opposite some very clever people during my years as a career specialist. Yet, it’s not unusual for me to disagree with my client’s proposed career strategy…


Knowledge is Power

A few years ago, I took to a bike in Amsterdam without first checking what their ‘road’ rules were. It was quite a hairy experience, and I was lucky not to get bowled over.

When it comes to your career, a similar lack of knowledge can be equally dangerous. It can be the difference between performing well at interviews and bombing out. Or, between coming across as a savvy, appealing candidate in your social media profiles versus appearing out of touch with your personal brand management.

My bike riding mistakes came about because I assumed. I was comfortable riding a bike in Adelaide and never imagined I needed to skill myself up to perform this activity in a more complicated environment.

And in the careers sphere, why do we make so many simple errors?

  • First, we aren’t aware of Best Practice in the career space. 
  • Second, we often lose our sense of strategy when it comes to our OWN job search. 

Regardless of the reason, here are six of the most common errors with tips about how to avoid falling into these traps.


Error #1: Avoiding networking ‘cos it makes you feel dirty.

Intellectually, everyone I work with understands how important networking is. Yet, their reluctance to do it can be extreme.

Now researchers can explain why you’re often so reluctant to network. Even better, their research recommends a mindset that can help you feel more comfortable about this critical career activity.

A study titled ‘The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties: How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty’, appeared in the December 2014 issue of Administrative Science Quarterly and highlighted that professional networking makes people feel unclean, so much so that they subconsciously crave cleansing products.

‘Even when people know networking is beneficial to their careers, they often don’t do it,’ says Francesca Gino, a professor in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets unit at Harvard Business School.

The authors hypothesised that professional networking increases feelings of inauthenticity and immorality - and therefore feelings of dirtiness - much more so than networking to make friends.

Yet the study also showed that networking had a positive association with job performance. So, it’s critical to change your mindset in relation to it.

Here are two tips to help you feel more comfortable.

Tip#1: View networking as swings and roundabouts.

Yes, you’re wanting to connect with people to support you in your career, which might make you feel like you’re ‘using’ these people.

If you resolve to play your part in the future to help someone else, your approach can become an acceptable exchange in your own mind. Hence, the swings and roundabouts concept.

Tip#2: Believe that you contribute reciprocal value to the meeting.

As the authors say, view your networking as something more than an activity simply designed to help you move up the corporate ladder.

‘If you focus on what you can offer to the relationship, it might be an important mindset to have, and remove some of those feelings of inauthenticity,’ Gino says.

How can you offer something of value to this stranger?

I read two newspapers a day before I head into the office. My husband laughs at me and when I say I’d like to work part-time, he replies, ‘You ALREADY do.’

However, the general knowledge I now possess means I can almost always offer something to people I meet. I also have a positive demeanour and energise the interaction so that we both enjoy the meeting.

When I first started consulting, I did endless networking to build my list of prospective clients. My most vivid memories aren’t of those people who promised/gave me work. It was the ones who commented genuinely at the end of our meeting: ‘It’s a pity that we can’t work together – I would’ve really enjoyed it’.

This gave me the confidence to continue networking with strangers. And, even though my current clients are very busy people, I’ve learned that they also enjoy our coffee catch-ups because there’s a genuine, vibrant exchange involved.

So, …

  • start improving your general knowledge…
  • set some concrete KPIs about meeting new people…
  • don’t forget your current contacts…

and you won’t need the soap.


Error #2: Not accessing the latest advice about LinkedIn.

A poorly presented LinkedIn profile is a negative for your career. Yet, I have met very few professionals who have strong LinkedIn profiles.

It’s time to fix this up. At a minimum, just type into Google something like: ‘What does a good LinkedIn profile look like?’ You’ll find some excellent advice.

Start with a professional photo and make sure you have a strong headline.

Note: make sure you take advice from experts who understand your culture. Australians, for example, tend to be more reticent selling themselves than people from other cultures.

It’s quite easy to clean up your profile and doesn’t take long.


Error #3: Failing to separate due diligence from selling at a job interview

‘Do you have any questions for us?’

At the end of an interview, it’s quite common for the interviewer to give you the opportunity to ask a few questions.

Invariably, when I’m drilling clients in interview practice and throwing this question at them, they ask mundane questions about the role.

Don’t do it.

Complete your due diligence outside of the interview process itself. When you’re facing your prospective buyer, use every instant of time you have at your disposal to sell yourself. 

Prepare two to three questions specifically designed to impress the interviewer.

Now, you do need to be careful here. Australians spot a fake a mile away so your questions need to sound normal and sensible. Let’s look at an example…

‘In my last role, I …(deliver valuable information).  Can you tell me whether this would form part of this role?’

You don’t really care about the answer – you just want them to realise that you’re skilled in a key element of the role. 


Error #4: Applying for a role where you don’t meet the key criteria.

It’s a core part of my role to help clients craft what I call a compelling Cover Letter.  

I’ve learned to quickly scan the advertisement before I start. All too often, there’s a very poor match between their skills and background, and the requirements specified.

Just recently, I took a client at his word and we were going along swimmingly. Then, half way down the ad, we came to the crunch point.

‘experience as a Registered Nurse essential’.


My client assured me the role was better performed by a non-medical person but, after checking with the employer, it turned out that they didn’t agree. 

Unless you have the hide of a rhinoceros, every knockback you receive in the job-hunting process damages your self-confidence, so only apply for roles where you clearly meet more than 80% of the core criteria.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever go out on a limb and apply for slightly ‘out there’ roles. However, if you choose to do so:

  • Contact the employer before you apply.  Fill them in on your background and ascertain their level of interest
  • Find someone sensible and run your thoughts past them to see if they think you have any sort of a reasonable chance of winning an interview
  • If you do decide to go ahead and apply, make sure that your Cover Letter, résumé AND interview technique are all outstanding, as you are likely to be the ‘wild card’ applicant


Error #5: Not doing your homework before the job interview

The days of candidates bluffing their way through job interviews are over.

Interviewers can tell if you haven’t done your homework and it’s a black mark against your name.

So many candidates still have this lackadaisical approach that you’d wonder why employers get so offended but there’s no doubt that they do. Conversely, if YOU are the only candidate who has done the homework, it gives you such an advantage and allows you to stand out.

Ask yourself how much you want the role and then get to work!


Error #6: Giving up too soon

I read once that, all things being equal, a job will go to someone who is…Male…Tall…and Blonde.

Now, I’m none of the above so when I am being interviewed, I face three choices:

  • I can give up and withdraw from the competition
  • I can find those ‘buyers’ who don’t suffer from the above prejudice
  • I can make myself so (professionally) appealing to the buyer, that they no longer care about this so-called magic formula

 It is quite normal for a young graduate to have high levels of anxiety about how to break into the job market and find a meaningful role. At the other end of the age spectrum, I often work with Baby Boomers whose first words when they meet me are usually, ‘No one is going to hire me ‘cos I’m too old. All these young ones are prejudiced against older workers.’

Then, there are people who are changing industries and face difficulties in finding a job.

Any of the issues these people share are actually between their OWN ears.

Find someone to help you counter negative fears and thought patterns, and to assist you in managing your demeanour. Garner their support to counter that nasty little voice in your head that pipes up when things go wrong, ‘Well no-one’s going to hire me anyway because I’m too….’

There are so many wise people out there in our lives and we all know who they are. I was helped by such a savvy person when I left my first career.

Treat your wise person with respect. Do as much research as you can on your own but then tap into that wisdom. Use their knowledge and skills to minimise your job search errors and enable a smoother and faster transition to that new job.


Finally…Chat GPT, Job Search and Errors

There’s no doubt that Chat GPT will be very helpful in a career change. At a minimum, consider using it to research possible next moves.

Once you’re at the pointy end of your job search, though, be wary about using AI. Employers are already adjusting their approach to résumés, for example, because they know how easy it is to construct them using Chat GPT.

We’re all going to have to learn how to do this, tap into the strengths of technology and then add the human touch. At a minimum, avoiding these errors can save you from wasting time and effort in your search for a new job.


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