How do you ask people to help you figure out what you want to do with your life? Everyone talks about networking being a critical skill in a successful job search, but few people do it well. Many people are just shy. Others feel intimidated by a process that seems to be asking for something without providing something in return.
A number of years ago I was working with an executive in the advertising industry. She had just been ‘downsized’ from her leadership position in a merger. As we discussed her next steps, it became clear that she had no confidence in her ability to reach out and connect with those who could help her build a bridge to her next assignment. Like many, she perceived networking as asking favors from strangers vs. a way to build relationships to sustain a career over time.
It doesn’t matter if you self-identify as an introvert or extrovert, networking is a challenge until you understand why you are doing it.
Start with the basics. Know your talents, abilities and aspirations. Then craft a short narrative to share with those you meet. Practice. If you don’t find yourself getting excited about your message, no one else will.
Put yourself out there. Online social networks offer a place to catalog your contacts, update your profile and share professional insights. They are not a replacement for social interaction. They are however, living organisms that need nurturing over time, not just when you experience a career drought.
Enroll in a continuing education course. Get involved in community activities. Join a professional network. These are all low risk opportunities to connect with others. Your goal is to find ways to relate to folks with common interests and lower the anxiety level when meeting strangers.
Professional networking is a way of connecting with people with a similar career interest; sharing information and contacts in the field. People love to talk about what they do. Don’t be intimidated, but be realistic in your expectations. In today’s workplace, the priorities of the work may take precedence over returning a call or email. Be sensitive to business cycles when asking for a meeting and be patient.
Be prepared for the conversation. This is not the time or place to ask for a job. It’s a time to listen, obtain good counsel and establish a foundation to continue the connection over time.
What can you give in return? An answer should organically grow from the discussion. It may not be a fair exchange at the time. But as you continue your networking activities you may find a reason to circle back and reconnect.
Networking is first person research. You know people. It’s time to start the conversation.