The word "networking" strikes fear into legions of otherwise intrepid job hunters. It conjures up one of three images: calling everyone in your address book to see whether anyone knows anyone who may know anyone who may give you an informational interview, attending club meetings with other job hunters or having your friends come up with ideas and contacts instead of advising you to get out there and network. But there is no need to fear because there are many different types of networking techniques you can use to help with your job search and references.
Obviously number three doesn't always work. But the other two aren't so appealing either. Who enjoys calling total strangers and asking them to meet with you when there's nothing in it for them? If they're successful in what they do - and why else would you want to meet with them? - they're likely to be busy doing it.
If you must do cold calling, be totally honest. I once got a call from a colleague who said, "Your friend Mary Jones called me. Tell me about her." I had never met Mary. She had gotten my name from Jim Smith, and I'd sent her on to the colleague. When I learned that Jim didn't know her either, I wished I hadn't.
As for job clubs, they can be fun and you can learn from them. But don't count on finding a job through them. Why rely for contacts on people who are looking for jobs too?
The best way to network is to line up your own contacts before you need them. One headhunter advises his clients to do something every week to build their networks, even if they've just been hired into a new job. Here are some places to look.
Former coworkers. When friends leave your company, you probably feel very sad and vow to keep in touch with them. But usually it doesn't happen. It's harder to make a dinner date with someone than it is to meet for lunch in the cafeteria.
Make a real effort to make those dates, and call those people every so often. Having gone through their own job searches, they know what's out there. If it turns out you don't need them, you'll have their friendships to enjoy.
Professional groups. You belong to the Widget Designers' Alliance because your company pays your dues, but you never go to meetings because they're always held at 7 AM and you're not a morning person. Try to catch one or two. If you absolutely can't function before 8, get on the group's e-mail list and share thoughts electronically. By exchanging cyberthoughts with your peers, you'll get to feel you know them - and can call on them in an emergency.
Headhunters. The next time one calls you to ask whether you know someone who might fill a certain job, be friendly and cooperative. If you can actually help him with his search, so much the better. You want him to keep thinking of you when he comes across opportunities.
Alumni organizations. I once got a job because I'd gone to the same college as my boss. He figured I must be very smart. Lots of people feel that way. So read your next alumni newsletter instead of trashing it as usual. Look to see whether any of your fellow graduates are in widget design. You may even want to send in your own news item.
Community activities. Friends of the library. Ceramics classes. Youth soccer coaching. Duplicate bridge clubs. Orchestras and choruses. Political caucuses and committees. These activities tend to be completely democratic, in that company presidents and day laborers often work together, with neither one knowing what the other does in real life. But if you accidentally learn that Jack who plays viola is a vice president of a widget company, it can do nothing but good,
Religious centers. It's hackneyed; people with troubles from broken marriages to eczema are advised to get active in their churches, synagogues, etc. I used to ignore such advice until I was having a conversation with a clergyman I hardly knew, and mentioned to him that I was job hunting. He said, "We have two members who have companies that do what you do. Let me give you their phone numbers. They both said they'd like to hear from people who might want to work with them." I didn't get a job through that route, but I gained a greater appreciation of religious leaders, who know a lot about their congregation and are motivated to help people.
Use your imagination. Every social encounter is a networking opportunity. The person you sit next to at a wedding reception may be in charge of your dream job. Even if you don't get leads by hooking up with the above groups or others like them, you should have a good time and make some fun and interesting friends.
Smart networking tips can help you make new connections for career advancement. When you network with others, your goal is to provide value to everyone you meet. In return, they'll become walking advertisements for you.
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