NETWORKING – 1): the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. (Merriam-Websters)
It’s a simple, straight forward definition and in a perfect world, I’d say it is right on… However, the definition in print and the demonstration of it in action can be quite different. Personally, as a volunteer for a number of organizations I conduct at least 75-100 networking or informational interviews/meetings a year and I’ve personally witnessed how “networking” has been twisted and morphed into a process that people use to “get connected” by 1) talking with people, 2) asking them to connect them with their professional friends for “networking” interviews, and 3) showing up to the meeting to launch into their 90sec to 30 minute elevator pitch, quickly followed by a direct question like… “So, do you know of any positions at your company that I would be a fit for?”
Which really sounds like “Would you please bet your personal and professional reputation on me and connect me with people you know in the company, even though I haven’t bothered to ask about your company and it’s challenges and offered ideas on how my skills and experiences might help the company?” No, really, I’m not kidding, thats what happens every day….
So instead of being well prepared and engaging in conversation, focusing on learning, establishing a basis for a real relationship, they most likely made the person very uncomfortable, feeling guilty for looking for any way possible to end the meeting, get them out of their office and avoid the next “networker”!
Most importantly and what I consider the biggest tragedy, they have wasted whatever opportunity existed to begin a relationship and potentially leverage that relationship in the future.
Ok, I know that sounds cold and harsh…. but career transitions of any kind (unemployed or underemployed) are harsh and are some of the most stressful and frustrating times in anyone’s career. In their defense, most people are only doing what they have beeen told is the recommended way to “do networking”, but more often than not they only end up further behind and still frustrated.
Think about how you feel when you get a cold call at your home, and because the person sounded like a nice guy or a friend recommended them as a provider of _____ services you allow them to set the appointment. When they show up, they don’t ask a single question, but launch into a hard sell on a product or service they don’t even know or care if you need and then keep pushing the extended warranty, because it’s a good price…..
Well enough of that dose of reality…. We all know that “net-working” as we know it is “not-working” like it could…..so let’s talk about something that has worked for the people I’ve coached….
With all of the people I have coached since developing the A Company of 1 approach to career management, I have consistently impressed upon them the key differences between “leveraging existing relationships with NETWORKING” and “building new relationships with NETLEARNING”.
If you think about and begin to follow this new mindset, you will entirely change the focus and purpose of your next informational interview, from focusing on you and what you need, to focusing on the interviewer and their company, and trying to LEARN about them, so that you can determine at some point whether you can help, or more importantly, whether the company is a fit for you and where you are in your career or at a minimum identify someone else in your network that they should talk to.
Now isn’t that refreshing? If you go into that NETLEARNING meeting truly seeking to understand you will be in a strong position to objectively judge and plan your next move.
Of course, like most of the tools and strategies I’ve developed for the A Company of 1 approach this “mindshift” I’m suggesting is simple, not easy. It will take effort and practice, but you will get it and through the process of NETLEARNING, you will create, build and nurture deep and valuable personal and professional relationships with people by engaging with them and finding ways to help them be successful. And if and when you find your self needing help, advice or connections you will be able to easily reach out to your network and leverage those relationships authentically and with confidence.
1) Identify as many companies as possible in your target market that hire the types of positions, or need the type of value you can provide. Start with the ones that you can tell or have a high confidence level that you will fit and may have employment opportunities there.
2) Using your existing relationships (network), ask for connections to people at those companies that might be willing to meet for 20-30 minutes to help you LEARN more about their company, industry etc.
3) Research enough, and analyze from as many perspectives as possible, the company, industry, culture, challenges etcs and have at least 5-10 questions to ask.
4) Be on time, professionally dressed, friendly, and after exchanging pleasantries they may ask you to tell them about yourself…. “Thanks so much for asking and I’d be happy to give you a brief overview of my career so far… but what I really would like to learn more about ____ and your career here. From the research I’ve done I saw that……
6) Ask your questions, have a real conversation, but watch the time. Make sure to leave enough time that you can circle back to your career snapshot and highlight through a story or two any areas that demonstrate particular skills or experiences that may be of interest.
7) If asked for your resume, because they would like to forward it on to someone, simple smile and say “Wow, thanks for asking Joe, but I didn’t bring a resume on purpose, because I really wanted this to be a real kind of NETLEARNING meeting rather than a job interview so I could LEARN about you and your experience here and your thoughts on the industry etc….., but I would be happy to send you one when I get home.” (Jaws may not drop, but you will get some pretty surprised looks!!) AND you now have a justified reason to follow up and they will walk away thinking, “man if he can do half those things with that great attitude and energy, when we have an opening this guy/lady would be great…” (this is a very POWERFUL strategy..)
8) Before you leave, thank them again for the time, their openness and insight into ____ Inc. Ask if it would be allright to stay in touch. Perhaps by saying….”Thanks again Joe, hey, I’ll look forward to seeing you at the next ____ meeting..” or “Thanks Joe, would it be allright if I stayed in touch? If I can ever be of assistance, personally or professionally, just drop me a line.”
9.) Move to the next company and keep it going… even after you’ve landed the next GREAT OPPORUNITY, just keep cycling through your list of companies, adding new ones and if you find one that really isn’t a fit for your career, just finish the meeting by suggesting that it would be great to stay in touch, perhaps you’ll see them at ___ etc. and if you can help them personally or professionally to feel freet to reach out.
I challenge you, to take the time to create a vision for your Company of 1, declare your purpose, understand your value and commit to yourself and those that rely on value you provide to continually seek ways to improve your skills, and your capabilities, demonstrate your passion for your chosen line of work, become known as the expert in your area, give back to your community, your industry, your profession and of course your personal and professional network.
NETLEARNING – 1): the ongoing process of learning about “prospects” (potential employers) for A Company of 1, by exchanging information and expressing genuine interest in individuals, companies or institutions to determine 1) if the company should continue to be a career prospect 2) to identify areas or challenges within the company where the candidate could demonstrate value (as a future employee. 3) to see how the candidate could help their new connection (as a professional or personal resource to this new connection). And to do all this WITHOUT asking about potential positions that the candidate might fit into.