Networking Pre-work

March 7, 2012

I work with an International student and she was telling me about how employment works in her home country. “Here, you network as part of finding a job. At home, the only way to find a job is through who you know.” She went on to tell me that a small network of powerful elites still control most of the post-Communist economy. The job market is closed and there are no want ads, no applicant tracking systems. Her story got me thinking about the challenges new grads face as they enter a new market where they may not have many connections. For example, Orlando can, at times, have established and mature networking circles that are hard to penetrate. So what is a new job seeker to do? Here are some hints…

Know WHY you are networking. Do you have a job already and you’re selling a product? Are you looking for a new job? Do you have a “school” job and you’re looking to move into a professional job? Are you just looking to expand your circle of contacts? Do you need a mentor to help you through the first few years of your career? All of these are valid, but you need to be specific with the people you reach out to regarding why you’re reaching out. That doesn’t mean tell them in the first sentence (we’ll discuss that later) but do some self assessment to know WHY you need to network in the first place.

Know what you have to offer. A former student of mine who is now a successful business owner summed networking up this way, “I never think about what I’m asking for, I spend time finding out helping others with what they need.” In other words, give and it comes back to you. But…to do that you have to know what you have to offer. If you’re looking for a job, you offer experience, skills, talents, and qualifications. Be specific. Write out a series of “I can…” statements. Something like, “I can think creatively to solve problems.” Or, “I can interpret a financial analysis.” If anything it can serve as a morale booster during what can be an arduous and humbling process. A lot of this is obviously on your resume, but be able to give tangible examples (with results and outcomes!) of times when you’ve done the things you say you can do.

Know what you need. I used to teach a class on Recruiting and Selection. I told my students that the hiring process was a lot like dating. The first step in finding a person who will be a good match for you is to know what qualities that person should possess. In the same way, a good hiring manager knows the skills and qualifications a person will need to do the job they are trying to fill. Fail on this and just jump in and you’ll soon see why your new significant sweetie is running off with your roommate and stealing your CDs! Bringing it back to networking, when you know what you need it not only guides your actions on where and with whom to network, it keeps you from asking for things that don’t help you with why you’re networking. I said before that networking is all about giving, but you need to know when to say, “Thanks, that would be helpful” when it comes back to you.

Identify places and groups. So now you’ve done the self-actualization thing, what’s next? We’ll, as your mama used to say, the measure of a person is who they choose to surround themselves with. Go back to your lists of what you offer and what you need. Do you offer a Human Resources degree from UCF? Then get involved in the alumni association. Join SHRM and the Central FL HR Association. Get some cards made up that you can hand out. Include your contact info and a few highlights from your resume. Leverage social media tools like LinkedIn to frame your identity and engage in conversations. Join groups and get involved in the discussions that take place.

Ask lots of questions. When I worked in the car business, I learned that the best sales people, the one’s with a book of business that could choke a mule, that never had to take an up because they worked repeat customers and referrals, the ones who had the highest customer service scores, the ones who had the best closing rate, the ones who were the best at what they did, didn’t really say much. They asked lots of questions and found out what the person thought, felt, needed, etc. Want to see how this process works, read The Trail and Death of Socrates. See the Socratic method in practice and take that lesson with you to your next networking event.

From this point on you can find plenty of guides on networking. It’s probably the most overused tip in career advising today. But remember that until you’ve done some self evaluation, you won’t know where you’re going. And if all you do is talk, no one’s going to ask you to come back!

Lonny