“Networking that works”

Not since the last big wave of layoffs have I heard the word “networking” so often. And just like the last time, it’s being foolishly tossed about as “the thing to do” now that so many people are job hunting. Like a wool jacket jerked from the closet when the temperature drops, “networking” only sees the light of day when needed.
Who are the abusers? Most anyone being laid off or fired. Panicked people whose first thought is, “Who will hire me? Who knows where the jobs are?” Networking to the rescue.
The problem is, most people don’t really understand what networking means. If you think it’s calling up folks you haven’t talked to in years, or asking people you’ve never met if they know of any jobs, you’ve got it all wrong. What you’re doing is insulting.
Connecting with people only when you need them or when you’re in trouble, and pretending you cared all this time when you really didn’t, is rude and insincere. And you will end up writing rude and insincere “networking” letters like this one written to me:
“Dear Andrea:
It’s been a while since we’ve spoken. To update you, a change of management occurred at my company which has caused the management to refocus their efforts, resulting in eliminating their marketing initiatives. In view of this change, I am immediately available to commence a new working relationship.”
My correspondent finishes with the reason he feels compelled to reconnect after 13 years:
“If you should hear of any job openings or changes in a company which may result in an opening, I would appreciate you letting me know. Or, if you have a contact at a particular company, please feel free to pass on my resume to them.”
What this letter really says to me is: “I haven’t bothered to keep in contact because things have been going pretty swell over the last 13 years. But now that I’m in trouble, I need you! And here’s how I want you to help: You probably have time on your hands, so think of who you know who could get me through this rough time. Then let me know who that is or let them know I’m available by making copies of my resume and mailing or faxing them to these people. I’ll let you know when I need you again.”
People see right through this kind of drivel. They’ll either ignore you or politely tell you they can’t help and you’ll end up frustrated. And you’ll swear that networking stuff doesn’t work–when in fact, true networking is miraculous and the fastest way to build a successful career.
It starts with an authentic relationship. You develop those by keeping in touch with someone, letting them know of your success as well as your down times, offering your help to them and showing genuine concern for their well-being and your relationship. In these kinds of relationships, people are happy to talk to you and help you in your time of need. They’ll take time out of their busy day to meet and introduce you to their friends and associates who might be able to help.
Networking is based on a simple concept: people help others they know, like and trust. You only get to know, like and trust someone by being interested and giving them the time of day when they help.
If you haven’t been building these kinds of relationships because you’ve been too busy with your job, you’ve been neglecting your career. Start creating them today. Explain your situation to people, apologize for not keeping in better contact and that you want to rebuild a connection. Ask about their life and how you two can stay closer–and do it. Especially during turbulent times, people are the most direct way to discover jobs.
But don’t wait until the next time you need help–and there will be a next time. It may take you longer to find your next career position this time because your network is weak. But next time, you’ll be ready.

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Talking about workin’ for a living with WGRR hosts Janeen Coyle and Chris O’Brien.