This is the time of year when thousands of new graduates are propelled into the job market. For the lucky 4 or 5% of the population who are natural networkers, that’s not a problem. However, for networking illiterates, job hunting poses significant challenges, especially if they have kept their noses to the grindstone, skipped internships in their industry, or are entering a competitive field.
This is not just a problem faced by new entrants to the labor market. One of the biggest challenges my clients face when looking for a job is networking. They are never comfortable with it, don’t understand what it is and resist it with every bone in their body. The more terrified they are, the more creative their excuses for not doing it. The bad news is that unless you actively do something to address your discomfort or aversion to networking, the problem is going to get worse as you try to move up the career ladder. At some point, comfort with networking and the ability to do it well will be the decisive question.
I think what often holds people back is the misperception that networking means ranking your friends and grilling them on job postings at their workplace. This is not networking!
Networking is about building a relationship and sharing information. We do this all the time when a friend asks if we know a good mechanic, wants to know the name of the plumber who fixed the leak in our laundry room, or asks for the name of our eye doctor. Most of us welcome these requests and don’t think twice. It’s only in the context of job hunting that we suddenly associate something negative with networking.
Think back to your career. I guess at some point networking produced a job opportunity for you or a friend. By intention or by chance, you were chatting with someone who mentioned a job opportunity and connected you with the right person. How did it feel to get that lifeline when you needed it? Grateful? Excited? How about the time your friend got a job because of something you did? I bet it was damn good!
Curiosity and genuine interest are at the heart of all networking. My good friend’s husband is curious about everything. He strikes up conversations with the barista at Starbucks, the clerk at Trader Joe’s, and just about anyone you can think of. His network is extensive. He can tell you where to get the best cup of coffee, where to pick up your car for the brakes, and how to get in touch with the CEO of Toyota. It’s a networking gold mine. As a result, he referred potential clients to me, referred a student and part-time Starbucks employee to Toastmasters to help improve her public speaking skills, and raised a confident daughter who was named one of 30 under 30 from Nashville.
While not all of us are great at networking, we can let our natural curiosity lead us to opportunities once we let go of outdated ideas about networking.
Career expert and strategist Mary Jeanne Vincent has a coaching practice in Monterey. She can be reached at 831-657-9151, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.careercoachmonterey.com.