There you stand, at your neighbor’s cocktail party, martini in hand. As you nonchalantly pop the olive into your mouth, you just happen to blurt, “Listen, Christina – there have been layoffs at Acme. Is your company hiring?”
Two days later, at your son’s Boy Scout award ceremony. As you nonchalantly pop the s’more into your mouth, you say: “Listen, Hank – there have been layoffs at Acme. Is your company hiring?”
No. No. No. If this is how you envision networking, no wonder you dread it. It’s awkward, it’s invasive, and frankly, it doesn’t work. It’s awesome to know a lot of different kinds of people, and it’s fantastic to be invited to a lot of parties. But if your whole reason for attending them (besides the s’mores) is to find someone that will hand you a job … well, you’re doing it wrong.
The Wrong Way To Network
Perhaps you’re using an outdated definition of networking which sounds something like this one from Don Orlando of The McLean Group (and my fellow Career Directors International colleague), “Networking: a mutually mortifying process whereby you impose on every friend, relative, and total stranger to ask for something they cannot give you: a job.”
Some people think that LinkedIn, the premiere online professional networking tool, is starting to look the same way. After all, LinkedIn began with relatively small networks of professionals who knew each other, and who slowly branched out one degree at a time. Now, you’re encouraged to collect as many connections as possible (friends as well as strangers), and to pay for higher positioning on applicant lists in the hopes of grabbing an employer’s attention.
But that doesn’t mean that LinkedIn can’t be used for networking’s true purpose. Here are three examples of what real networking is about, and you don’t have to spend a dime to do it.
“It’s better to give than to receive,” says Mr. Orlando. He recommends using a new definition: “Networking: the natural preference for extending value, without an immediate expectation of a return, and without giving away the store.” If you hear of a position that might interest one of your connections, let them know. If you read about an innovation in their industry, comment on it. If their daughter is graduating from college, say congratulations. It’s not all about you. In the end, your thoughtfulness may well bring rewards – but your first priority is to give, not to get. Get involved. Are you a circus marketer? An expert in computational astronomy and astrophysics? A vampire romance novelist? LinkedIn has a group for you. (Seriously.) LinkedIn isn’t just a stream of pictures of people who might hire you, it’s a place to have discussions with people who share your interests and experiences. Learn from them. Let them learn from you. Enjoy yourself. Networking is not a sum-zero game. If someone else finds something to enjoy on LinkedIn, whether it’s a cartoon or new employment, that doesn’t mean you can’t share in their enjoyment – and share your own enjoyment. Nobody likes a party-pooper. It’s the upbeat person who attracts attention. And in the end, you might just attract more than that.
Whether it’s on LinkedIn, at a party, or in an informational interview, focus on building those relationships and letting the benefits come naturally to you.
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