If, in the past, networking hasn't helped you much, it's tempting to write it off: "By the time I make a connection deep enough to lead to a job, I'll be eating cat food."
The following tactics may well enable you to make a connection quickly that's deep enough to move someone to want to help you.
Where to Network
It's tough to make a deep connection online. Your chances are better in in-person settings likely to be laced with people with appropriate job leads: LinkedIn discussion groups, professional meetings and conventions, volunteer organizations, especially boards of directors, plus Meetups and other groups of people who share an avocational interest. Community theater and other activities of high-intensity and of extended duration can be particularly beneficial, and even seemingly low-potential groups can work.
How to Get Deep Fast
Show up early to events. It's less overwhelming then and you're more likely to find someone who would welcome your conversing with them. Start by eyeing someone you sense might be a good person to talk with. Trust your intuition while trying to ensure you aren't making judgments based on race, gender, etc. For example, a multi-pierced 20-year-old dressed in wild style and wilder colors might be less likely to help you get an accounting job than a 40-year old wearing more conservative attire.
If you're shy, just stand in the person's line of sight, maybe 10 feet away, and establish eye contact with a pleasant look on your face. Maybe you'll be lucky and he or she will come over. If not, take a deep breath and approach the person. Here's a sample dialogue:
JANE: Hi, My name is Jane Jones.
SAM: Sam Smith.
JANE: This is my first time at a SHRM [Society for Human Resource Management] meeting. You?
[Starting the convo with a commonality creates a bond and admitting she's a first-timer makes Sam feel at least equal if not superior, which is helpful. Ironically, people are more likely to help someone who makes them feel good about themselves than they are to help someone who's so smart or personable that they feel inferior – even though the smarter, more personable one is more likely to be a good employee. Also note that Jane ended with a question, which ensures the convo keeps going.]
SAM: I've been to a few of these.
JANE: Anything I should know about the organization or these meetings?
[People like to be asked advice about things they know about.]
SAM: Well, diversity is certainly a big issue these days.
JANE: Is that a particular interest of yours?
[This is Jane's first attempt at finding one of Sam's hot buttons. Finding one is key to creating a deep connection quickly.]
SAM: Not really.
JANE: Might I ask what you are thinking about these days?
[That's a very broad hot-button-seeking question, which maximizes the chances of Sam revealing something.]
SAM: [sounding beleaguered] Well, right now, I'm focusing on moving. My girlfriend and I are moving to a nicer place.
[OK, there's a hot button.]
JANE: Yeah, moving can be a pain.
[Statements of empathy build bonds. And it's premature to offer any suggestions, for example, "When I moved, I used Starving Students Moving Co. They were great."]
JANE: Is there a particular challenge or is it just the overall hassle of moving?
[She's trying to home in on his pain point so perhaps she can be helpful. At minimum, she's showing interest in his issues unlike many people, who are self-absorbed.]
SAM: It's just the hassle of moving on top of the crazy, busy life we all lead these days.
JANE: I understand.
[She pauses, hoping he'll finally ask about her, but no dice. The silence extends for a few seconds, so she correctly feels the need to jump back in.]
JANE: I'm not planning to move, unless you count that I'm hoping to move into a good new job.
SAM: Looking for work?
JANE: Yes. I was a benefits specialist and always got very good evaluations, but they moved our department to India. Any advice on how I might utilize SHRM to help land a job?
[Without sounding like she's bragging, she conveyed that she's competent, and why, if she's good, she's looking for work. Note also that she didn't ask for a lead. She asked for advice. Usually, if you ask for a lead, you get advice. But if you ask for advice, you'll most likely get a lead.]
SAM: I don't know but I could introduce you to a couple of people who might be helpful.
JANE: I'd consider that a real favor.
[After Sam's done so, Jane thanks him and asks for his card. And when she gets home, she goes to Amazon.com and mails him a highly rated but inexpensive book on moving.]
In just a few minutes, Jane developed enough of a relationship to reasonably expect Sam would try to help her land a job. Of course, most conversations like this will not yield a job lead, but enough of them will to make the effort worthwhile. Besides, even if they don't lead to a job, they may lead to a friendship.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.