There is something about networking that the British seem to have a general problem with; it is either "not quite cricket" or it is "toffs pulling strings" and "the old school tie" network. I went to BNI Momentum in Brentwood last week invited by Perry Ashby.
It got me thinking however, it is still true that a large proportion of jobs get filled via the 'who-you-know' route, so it is well worth approaching job search networking in a professional and open minded manner.
Here is a simple 'how-to' guide:
Step 1. Accept that you aren't asking for a big deal
Networking isn't about asking someone to give you a job. It is important to get your head around this as it frees you from two common issues people have; the first is that "I don't know anyone who has the sort of clout to give me a job" and the second is the "I don't want to put the kind of pressure on people of thinking that if they don't give me a job I'm going to starve".
Networking is about learning from other people; it may be learning about what types of jobs there are out there, or it may be about learning who is out there and how (if at all) they are 'connected' to you)
Step 2. Start talking and listening to people
Note that we aren't saying to make a list of people to approach....if you do that you'll probably find all sorts of reasons not to approach a particular person. Talk to and listen to virtually anyone. Your immediate family, neighbours and good friends, your more distant family, community and acquaintances.
Step 2a. What should you be saying?
Be open and honest. Tell them that you are looking for a new job/career and want to ask their advice or pick their brains. Be open about the fact that you aren't expecting them to find, give or offer you a job.
Ask about what they do/did. Ask about the business/industry sector they work in or used to work in. Ask about the organisations they supplied and competed with. Ask about the big issues for the sector now.
Step 2b. Listen to what they say
Pay attention; don't interrupt them, take an interest in them and their work history. Don't get involved in slagging off your previous employer. Don't bore them with highly detailed accounts of your past. Make notes (either their and then or straight afterwards; this is first hand business intelligence and you never know when it might come in handy)
Step 3. Expand the network
Ask them if they can put you in touch with someone still active who you could have a similar conversation with. This is where the previous listening pays off; you have heard about their immediate colleagues and also about their suppliers, competitors and customers, so if they "can't think of anyone right now" you can help with some context. Promise them that you won't ask that person for a job, just to have a similar conversation. Most people, when confident that you aren't going to cause them an embarrassment, are more than happy to share contacts with you. If people want to check-with-someone-first, be prepared to accept that, but re-iterate that you just want advice and a conversation. Be prepared to use Skype or a phone conversation if a face to face meeting is difficult.
Step 4. Leave them something to remember you by
You don't want to go handing out CVs; that just looks a bit too needy. Get yourself some cards; they can come from one of those print-them-yourself vending machines, solopress or you can make your own.
You want something like a business card (but not your old business cards with the company name struck through!) that gives a person your name and contact details. If you set yourself up a free website by all means put its address on the card and put your CV on the website. You are aiming for an aide memoire that they can use if they suddenly want to get in touch. It is worth giving these even to your close friends; they probably don't know your phone number; it is programmed into their phone!
Step 5. Show some gratitude
You don't have to take everyone to the Ritz for dinner as a thank you, but after you have met with someone send them a text, email, card or whatever seems to suit their style and say a big thank you. Often this results in an "Oh, it just occurred to me....." or a "Do you know, just after our meeting I heard....." reaction. Great! The networking is working.
Networking is as old as the hills and will continue regardless of what new technology appears. If you don't like the idea of networking remember that there is one thing worse; and that is not-working.
Thanks for reading
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