Even though networking is a time-honored, valuable professional skill, many people clumsily believe they are networking by approaching strangers with requests for help or by telling everyone they know that they are on the job market. Unfortunately, that is not really networking: it's asking people for jobs. These are two distinct activities, and job seekers need to know the difference to tap into the market successfully.
Paulett Eberhart, CEO of CDI Corporation, an integrated engineering and technology services organization, suggests the following points to help recent graduates and new professionals make the crucial transition from using networks for personal reasons to tapping them for professional advancement:
1. Help others before you help yourself. Clearly identify how you can add value. "The employer is always looking for what new hires can bring to the table," Eberhart says. "When you network, demonstrate how well you can benefit a team, client or company."
Set yourself apart by demonstrating how you're an asset. Additionally, be generous with your own resources. Eberhart suggests: "When you reach out to a professional to help you, make it a two-way street and give as much to the relationship as you take from it. Think about what you can offer, whether it's an excellent candidate who could fill an immediate position within their company or a new tool to help them with a project that they're working on." When you focus on how you can help, you may be surprised by how many people will return the favor.
2. Value face-to-face time. Social networking is a great way to expand your network and demonstrate your expertise. However, don't get stuck online and forget about face-to-face contact. "It's important to send out networking emails and build your LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook connections, but there's inherent value in a firm handshake and the opportunity to put a face to a name at an in-person meeting," Eberhart says.
Many people think that social networking is the fast way to make many connections, but Eberhart believes there is benefit in forming relationships offline and using social media to keep in touch. Regardless of the element that social media plays in your professional networking, be sure that you meet with your contacts directly. This gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your personality through your body language, your tone of voice and your smile.
3. Invest in relationships. It is easy to confuse a good contact with a good relationship. A contact is someone you meet and who may or may not recognize your name when you touch base in the future. Relationships require maintenance and upkeep. If you want successful relationships, Eberhart suggests you keep conversations going by touching base regularly. Email links to information or news you think your contacts would appreciate. Congratulate them on personal accomplishments or when their company attracts positive press. Meet for lunch or coffee and keep up with changes they'd need to make to be successful. If there's a way you can help them, do it.
4. Tell people what you want. You need to know what you offer and what you need before anyone can help you. Be open and concise. Eberhart says: "Never be shy about approaching people for help. Sitting back and waiting for others to approach you with opportunities will get you nowhere. Nobody looks out for you in the same way that you do. If you think someone could open the door to a job opportunity for you, ask them."
5. Look beyond the obvious. Don't overlook the opportunity to network in all different environments. Seek networking opportunities everywhere you go, whether it's while you're traveling, while running an errand or volunteering. People don't need to be in your industry or line of work to be able to provide great resources for you.
6. Don't take "no" for an answer. Timing is everything. "Don't let a 'no' discourage you, and certainly don't dismiss it as a closed door," Eberhart says. "It may be a 'not now' rather than a 'no.' Keep the lines of communication open and think strategically. The business world moves quickly, and new job opportunities can pop up when you least expect them. When you receive a 'no' from someone in your network, accept it graciously and continue to foster that relationship. Stay on their radar so that when the timing is right, you'll be at the top of their list for a job opportunity."
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.