Networking Tips for the Reluctant Networker
Networking is, as almost anyone can tell you, the best way to get a job and have a thriving career. Some people though, especially some job hunters, see networking as deceptive or distasteful or unpleasant, and avoid it. Some are so spooked by the negative view they have of networking that they convince themselves they don’t really have to do it, and even come up with reasons why (“It’s fake”, “I don’t have time”, “It’s using people and I don’t do that”, etc.), which can extend their unemployment. Networking is not “kissing up” to people or using them only for your own gain, and it takes many forms besides an intimidating entrance into a roomful of strangers you want something from. It can actually be enjoyable! Here are some tips to make it less stressful:
Think of networking as mutually beneficial. It is not finding someone and getting something from him/her, offering nothing in return and then ceasing any further contact. It is both parties offering something and both receiving something, over time.
There is a paradox of networking: the more you concentrate on giving, the more you will get. Approach potential contacts and any interaction with other professionals with thoughts of how you can contribute and help, not of what you want. Offer rather than request. This can be much more comfortable than concentrating on what you want from others, as it is dealing from a position of strength and generosity, rather than weakness and desperation. Remember, though, you must give without expectation of reward; do it for the sake of doing it, to benefit your network, then let it go.
Networking is a long term endeavor, not something you do for a few weeks or months until you get a job and then consider it done. You should always be scanning the horizon for opportunities to expand your network and serve those in it in new ways. Understand that real networking requires trust and time, and trying to rush things signals inexperience and desperation, which will work against goals like getting a job or having a successful career.
Keep your eyes and ears open for ideas that you can use or adapt to serve your network. Think of projects or events or activities you can initiate which could benefit those in your network, or your employer or workplace or the patrons of your library or students at your school, etc. You never know where these can lead, and they’ll also enhance your resume and reputation. It is a very good thing to be known as someone who has many ideas for projects and who has the know-how, experience, energy, and contacts to make them happen. Create opportunities rather than waiting for them to be offered to you.
Connect people already in your network to each other – as with projects or other ideas, don’t wait for someone to ask; think of a connection you can facilitate which will benefit both parties. This is a simple but powerful way to build good will with both people and increase your value to each, and does not require a great deal of effort on your part.
Don’t be afraid to try something new or change course. Just showing up to any and every networking event is not likely to get you a job or enhance your career. Evaluate your goal(s) and your actions regularly and be honest with yourself as to whether what you’re doing is working; if it is not, try something different.
Volunteering is a wonderful low-stress way to network – working on a common task or goal is a much easier and more natural way of getting to know others than standing next to a buffet table making small talk. You can volunteer while job hunting at various libraries or organizations and if you are working, you can (and should) volunteer at your workplace, for additional responsibilities, tasks, meetings, committees, etc. or preparing for upcoming events, or working with other departments. Your willingness to assist beyond the original scope of your duties will make you more visible and valuable to your employer and colleagues and will help you to become known as a constant, valuable contributor. You will be “banking” good will, building your positive reputation, and acquiring new skills.
Be sure to network online as well as face-to-face; each can enhance the other. The better someone knows you, the more comfortable he or she will feel recommending you, and face-to-face interactions are very important in building that trust and comfort. Join LinkedIn groups and participate in discussions to build your online presence. Make sure most of your interactions are offering something (information, advice, encouragement, praise, recommendations, congratulations, etc.) or asking (for opinions, advice etc.) – refrain from criticism, negativity, or strong or prolonged disagreements, and always remember these are public communications.
Enthusiasm, gratitude and respect are crucial for success. Make sure all your interactions and requests are courteous and not intrusive or demanding. Remember to say “Thank you”! You can rarely go wrong by thanking someone but you can definitely go wrong by neglecting to thank someone.
The job market is still very tight right now, but there are some jobs out there and some people are getting hired. Those who can maintain their positivity have a much better chance of building a robust network, getting the job offers and other opportunities, and having a successful career.
Ellen Mehling (bio as of 2015) was Director of the Westchester Graduate Library School Program and Director of Internships at Long Island University’s Palmer School of Library and Information Science http://www.liu.edu/palmer/, and Job Bank Manager / Career Development Consultant for the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) http://metro.org.
previously published 5/10/12, 4/11/13 & 6/18/14 & 5/12/15