Career News | by Marta Segal Block | Thursday, October 20, 2016
Everyone knows how networking goes. You meet someone, you try and find out what the two of you might have in common, you try and find a need the person has with which you can help. You follow up from the meeting with a LinkedIn request or an email in which you solve the person’s need. The person responds, you respond, then magically, you have a job.
What? Your experience hasn’t been exactly like that? Don’t worry, that’s because networking is actually both a little more complicated, and a little more straightforward, than some people like to admit. There are three basic steps to networking and understanding the steps can help streamline your job search process.
Step 1: The Meeting
According to author and business coach Steve Fretzin, networking starts before you even get to a conference or meeting. Fretzin urges his clients to fully research a conference or event and find people with whom they want to speak. Although many people see connecting on LinkedIn as a follow up step, Fretzin, a former recruiter, suggests making LinkedIn a pre-step. He recommends that job seekers and other networkers send personalized requests on LinkedIn as a way of creating a connection and potentially setting up a time to meet at the conference.
Business coach Melissa Ford agrees that being prepared is essential to successful networking. She believes that the more prepared you are for a meeting, the more comfortable you’ll be, which may take some of the awkwardness out of the meeting. She encourages clients to put the focus on the person with whom they’re meeting. Instead of thinking about what you want, think about what you can give.
This is probably advice you’ve heard before, and to many job seekers it can sound a little hollow. When you’re looking for a job it can be hard to see what it is you’re offering. Coach and entrepreneur Elatia Abate believes that hollow sound comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of networking.
Abate says that we are usually taught to think about networking as “transactional,” when in reality, good networking is a “process of discovery.” Abate encourages clients not to think about looking for a job or a connection, but instead to think of themselves as building a community.
Step 2: The Follow-Up
Let’s say you’ve gone to that conference and had a great conversation with the head of your dream department at your dream institution. What now? Obviously, you need to follow up, but how?
According to Abate, the key to following up lies in the key to a good meeting is research. If you’ve done your research before you meet someone, following up with the person will be easier. Doing your research before meeting someone allows you to ask more interesting questions, which in turn gives you more interesting thoughts and comments for your follow-up.
Abate rejects the often-stated idea that the follow-up contact should be about something the other person wants. You don’t have to offer the person an answer or a solution. Instead, you can just be honest about what you’re looking for. “I thought your comments about the changing nature of financial aid were really interesting. I was wondering if you could direct me to a few more people I could talk to about this idea?” or, even more direct, “I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how I might pursue a career at your university?”
What’s most important after this step is to continue to follow the trail. Talk to the people the person recommended. Send thank you notes and continue to ask great questions.
According to Abate, many people fail to follow up because they worry that they’re imposing, or they worry that they’ll be rejected. Abate urges clients to separate out their sense of self-worth from the results of their networking. According to Abate, “Rejection is a normal part of the process.”
Step 3: Staying in Touch
Many job seekers get through the first two steps of networking successfully, only to find themselves unsure about how to stay in touch with their contacts. Having built her business through networking, designer Lisa Ghisolf considers herself an expert networker. She recommends keeping your social media accounts active and updated as a great way of being top of mind with contacts.
According to Fretzin, the key to staying on other people’s minds is to make sure they stay on yours. He recommends coming up with a list of five to 10 key people with whom you want to stay in touch and making sure that you connect with them in little ways. You might invite the person to see a presentation that you’re making or send them an interesting article, even inviting them to social events can be a good idea if it feels natural and not forced.
For Abate, being able to stay in touch goes back to the original goal of asking good questions. According to Abate, when networking most people ask closed questions. For example, “Are you hiring or can you help me?” While these questions may get at the root of what you need, Abate stresses that the questions only have two possible answers, “yes or no.”
Once the person has answered your closed question, you’ve effectively closed off their thinking about you. While you certainly need to let people know that you’re looking for a job, Abate urges job seekers to ask more open-ended questions about information. By paying close attention to the answers, you can pay better attention to the issues that concern your contact and thus stay in touch more naturally.
Networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but by understanding the techniques and goals it can become easier for anyone.