Networking Schmetworking – Give me a break!
In the world of job-search there is no stronger fear-inducing word than “networking”. Networking is the holy-grail in job search. “Most opportunities open up through networking” is the refrain, the key message and the Big Imperative.
You can almost see the introverts – and those with the typical Aussie form of self-abasement – wither up in front of you. It is a word with a raft of unattractive connotations.
For most of us, networking sounds like working the room at conferences with a big artificial smile, thrusting business cards at people, and rushing home to catalogue those you have collected.
Maybe we should expunge this word from our literature.
Certainly, building relationships does matter a lot – but my very strong preference is to use different, much clearer language for what should really happen. I see these encounters as intelligence gathering interviews.
It goes like this. Ideally through the introduction of a friend, maybe a brief encounter at a conference, maybe a suggestion from an acquaintance, you do summon the courage to approach someone. However your approach has purpose and preparation.
“Would you be able to see me for a short discussion? I am approaching you following a conversation with XXXX. I would be really interested to learn more about your area of activity, and some of the issues in front of you. Let me quickly say I am not assuming you have a job for me – I am primarily exploring different fields and looking at where I might invest energy. Could you spare 20 – 30 minutes?”
Not all these approaches will work, but many will. And if you do crack an interview, then do some research! You should read a bit about the person’s organisation, check out their LinkedIn profile, reflect on industry issues etc. Your aim is to go in with around 8 – 12 good probing questions, maybe in three layers: the first group of questions addressing the big picture around their organisation – trends, competitors, economic factors. The second group of questions might be more specifically about their organisation and their role: recent changes, current priorities and concerns. And the third group of questions more specifically around the individual: what keeps them awake at night, what they enjoy and look forward to over the next few years. Most of us enjoy being asked questions like these.
None of this involves selling or self-promotion. However if your questions are good ones, you will leave an impact.
Sure it is a good idea to have a sentence articulating what you hope to do next, somewhere in your closing thanks. And sure, it is a good idea to ask “Is there someone you think I should talk with?” and “Would it be OK if I mentioned your name?” at this time. However don’t rush to produce your resume! (If you do that you are immediately changing the conversation to one in which you become a supplicant: not a good idea!) You can always send one later if one is requested.
Finally, send a thank you email, maybe with one page resume – and make an effort over coming weeks to send something of value, an article or a link to some useful information – to the individual. The process should be reciprocal.
Some of what I summarise here is of course found in general literature about “networking” – but the core process of intelligence gathering and building good questions is often neglected. And because of the dreadful baggage which comes with the “n” word, I prefer to cast it aside!