The Art of Working and Reworking Your Network

by Crant, John Friday, December 18, 2009
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Why is it so difficult for people to turn to network contacts for help on the second or third time?

The simple answer is guilt. We all have that nagging voice in our heads that our call is not of interest, and is really a nuisance, to those in our network that we may call more than once asking for help. Many times, we even play out the mental conversations to our detriment, “Why are they calling me again, I can’t help them!” We may also be thinking about the many other calls that these individuals may be getting, and visualize our call as if it’s the same as all the rest. It’s this negative-reinforcement that can block our ability to network effectively. Effective networking provides value to both parties. As job seekers, we often fall into the trap of thinking only about how the call may be valuable to us, rather than thinking of a good networking call as a value for both individuals. Compounding our anxiety may be the fact that the first time around, we may have neglected to lay the proper foundation for our follow up networking calls.

How does the outcome of the first interaction play into it?

It’s not the outcome of the first call as much as it’s whether we worked to develop a mutually beneficial networking relationship from the start. Remember, these calls should be valuable to both parties. What do you have to offer, and how can you be a valuable contact for them in their careers? Even if they are in a senior position to yours, you can still help them with valuable contacts in the industry -when they eventually are looking to expand their team.

Is this a common problem for today’s job hunters? Why?

This is the most common problem that I see as a career coach: job seekers know that they have to network, especially in this economic climate, but are ill prepared to do so. Individuals seem to have little understanding of just what makes networking effective. They’ve always heard that they need to do it. Maybe they have even attended networking events, only to spend most of their time reinforcing in conversation how ‘they are not good networkers’ to ease their discomfort.

What are some common mistakes people make when asking the same people for help?

Not showing a true interest in the other individual is the largest mistake. In today’s job market, most people return to their network without the ‘value-add’ for their contact. What’s in it for them? Calling an individual back only to communicate that you are ’still out there and looking’ produces an anxiety and guilt reaction on the other end too, and that’s no way to the create the warm chemistry needed for effective networking. You will hear your contacts on the other end of the call squirm like they are trying to get out of a dinner invitation at the mother-in-laws (not to slight mother-in-laws, I have a great one!). So, be sure to call them back with something for or about them: an interesting, related news article about their field, their company, etc., or even something that may be of personal interest -say, in an earlier call you had uncovered their love of fly fishing, and you spotted (or search for!) an interesting article on fly fishing. Transparent? Yes. Effective? Yes, as well. There is always an ego component to networking as everyone secretly, if not overtly, wishes to be the center of attention. So, come bearing gifts for their ego and you may get more conversation, and help, than you had expected. As long as we’re talking about common mistakes, no phone messages with “I’m just following up.” If you are thinking about what your messages are communicating on the other end, this one just says, “I’m checking to see if you did anything for me.” That’s a chemistry killer, and a font of guilt that won’t help your cause. Instead, leave your message about whatever you have zeroed in upon that is about them (like the fly fishing article). Don’t forget that your tempo, tone and attitude on the call or message makes a significant difference in whether people engage and open up, or close and shut down. A little water and sunlight makes those flowers bloom.

Is it beneficial to go back to the same people who have offered help? Please explain why or why not.

Of course! The best networking contacts are the ones that you develop into close personal confidants. While not every good contact will develop into a close personal friend, by going back with value to your contact with a frequency, it will set a good tone for the relationship and result in better discussions. Rich conversations and discussions are where you’ll find your networking gold. And with repeated contact, and solid note-taking, you can be building that relationship and exploring many different avenues that can produce very useful, and actionable, information to aid in your search for a new position.

Why can some people be standoffish when they are constantly being asked for help from the same person?

Most times it comes from the mistaken belief that they cannot be of help to you without getting you a new job. If the job-seeking networker understood what they could uncover in these dialogues, they would know how, and what, areas to discuss that would produce this golden information. What can they uncover? Openings or needs/challenges, contacts, others to network with at your networking contact’s company, group, division, parent company, subsidiaries, competitors, etc. They could uncover information such as common backgrounds that get hired more quickly at this firm (certain schools, from certain former employers, etc.) or even information on how the hiring process there really works there. Information about the organization chart for this employer could be valuable to the job seeker, all available right there in conversation -if you are listening for it. And let’s not forget that you are networking with another individual from your industry, so be ready to pick their brains for new ideas that you may not have thought about yet.

How can job seekers create connections that will want to help them again and again?

If you want a fan, you have to be a fan. Be sure to check out their background thoroughly (think LinkedIn profile) and you will likely discover much more about them than you currently know. Take notes. Show an interest in them: it always needs to be about them, even though it’s about you. Bring something of value to them every time that you reach out: interesting article, insights to share, etc. Yes, it does take work to strategize and come up with the right value pieces, but it’s really about changing the way you think about networking and making connections. The art of networking is about making them look forward to getting your next call, and then you will have a fan that will help you in any way that they can.

Copyright © 2009 by John Crant