Were you born to network? Or are you one of the many folks, like me, who breaks out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of marketing yourself, building contacts and asking for referrals?
Over many years as a career coach, it’s become clear to me that some people are naturally wired for relationship building and others aren’t. In fact, I generally witness two camps of people emerge when faced with the exact same networking scenario: those who seize the moment to build a valuable new connection and those who completely miss the dynamics in play and walk away empty-handed as a result.
So, for those of us who aren’t naturally skilled in the art of the schmooze, let’s look at four typical job-search scenarios and see what can be learned from the approaches of networking superstars!
Scenario #1: Networking at Industry Events, Association Meetings and Job Fairs
If you’re an introvert like me, the thought of going to social gatherings to mingle and sell yourself sounds about as fun as getting hit in the head by a brick. As a result, many rookie networkers avoid these events like the plague. Or they go but only because they feel obligated and, as a result, end up feeling awkward. They just stand around playing with their phone, picking at their food and doing whatever they can to avoid the possible rejection that comes with making conversation with strangers.
The best networkers I’ve encountered treat every event as a puzzle ready to be unlocked. Prior to attending, the superstars prepare their networking strategy, which often includes:
- Researching scheduled attendees in advance to identify relevant people or companies to seek out
- Contacting the organizers to learn more about the gathering and make sure it aligns with their goals and interests
- Seeking out these same people at the event itself to put a face to a name and catalyze introductions to others
- Making sure they have business cards and a killer icebreaker ready to roll for when the time comes to engage
Scenario #2: Asking Friends and Contacts for Referrals
Given that a huge number of hiring decisions are made based on personal contacts, most job hunters make at least a token attempt to hit up their friends for referrals. Newbie networkers, for example, tend to contact 10 to 15 of their closest acquaintances but don’t directly ask them for referrals or introductions. They might imply that they’d like a name or two, but they don’t actually ask.
Rock-star networkers take the concept of asking for and handling referrals to an entirely new level. Recognizing how mission-critical this step is to generating quality job leads, they are far more assertive (in a nice way) about hitting people up for leads.
Some of the best practices they follow include:
- Reaching out to hundreds of people, not just a small handful, recognizing that almost anybody (a neighbor, their hairdresser, that person they met in their certificate program) could be the conduit to a great new lead or introduction
- Having a great elevator pitch that clearly explains the type of roles they’re after, versus simply speaking about their goals in vague, noncommittal terms
- Presenting a list of specific employers they’re targeting and directly asking if their connections can provide referrals and open doors into these organizations
- Asking if their contacts know people in key hiring roles (e.g. CFOs, recruiters, marketing leaders, etc.) to whom they can make an introduction
- Immediately following up on the gift of a referral, like a pro, and making sure to circle back around to the referring party later to let them know how things worked out
Scenario #3: Building Connections on LinkedIn
If an individual isn’t terribly comfortable networking to begin with, there’s a strong likelihood they’re also not using LinkedIn to its full capacity. They might make occasional updates to their profile but fail to tap into the site’s potential to reconnect with old acquaintances, locate certain types of recruiters and hiring managers, and track down friends of friends who could be in the perfect position in their careers to lend a helping hand.
Almost all top networkers today are downright LinkedIn wizards. They’re fluent in all the powerful features of the site and consult it multiple times a day to amplify and extend their relationship-building endeavors. Beyond just keeping their profile up to date, some of their tactics include:
- Engaging LinkedIn’s advanced search and Boolean syntax features to locate certain types of people and facilitate an introduction to them
- Building their personal connections up to more than 500 and participating in multiple LinkedIn Groups so that they can maximize their reach
- Regularly using the social sharing aspects of the site (article forwarding, etc.) since doing so increases their ranking on the system
- Responding quickly and gracefully when other users ask them for favors through the platform; they pay it forward, in other words, versus just using the tool as a one-way street
Scenario #4: Handling Follow-Up and Reciprocity Situations
Lastly, as someone who gets hit up for networking favors fairly often, I frequently see fledgling networkers focus solely on short-term gain. They don’t seem to be thinking about the long-term potential involved in each new relationship or how they can build value, reciprocate and form lasting bonds. If you see people racing from coffee chat to coffee chat — in other words, relentlessly hounding people for job leads — they’re simply not going about the process in an appropriate or sustainable way.
The best connectors out there certainly enjoy meeting large quantities of new people, but not at the expense of quality. They play the long game. Rather than going dark after an initial interaction or assuming a one-time meeting will net them a friend for life, they show a sincere interest in getting to know each person they meet by:
- Listening, caring and actively seeking ways to help the other person, even if their own needs were the primary catalyst for setting up the meeting
- Checking in with new acquaintances on a regular basis, updating people on their progress and sharing ongoing value in the form of a helpful idea, introduction, good laugh or the like
- Extending tons of ongoing gratitude for the other person’s assistance and, again, updating them on the results of any favors granted or introductions made
At the end of the day, the world seems to be made up of two types of people: those who are intuitively wired to network their way to new opportunities and those who are more reticent and reserved about the process. And yet, speaking as somebody who was a member of the latter group for many years, I can assure you that with a little courage — and practice — you can radically improve your success.
So, I ask anybody who feels a bit networking-challenged: What can you do to improve your own relationship-building efforts, now that you have a glimpse into what the true networking superstars out there are doing?