If you’re a young job seeker, you’ve undoubtedly heard that when looking for a job, it’s not always what you know, but who you know. So get out there and network! But in the frenzied social networking boxing ring we exist in, how do you know if you’re properly landing punches or simply shadow boxing your way to obscurity?
Typically, people use this networking strategy:
- Impersonal template emails/social network invites to anyone who looks interesting. The goal isn’t to collect as many names/followers as possible. The key is to find individuals who matter and personalize messages to them.
- Sending a complete stranger your resume and expecting them to help or recommend you for a job. You need to know someone and earn their trust before requesting their assistance.
- Never saying thank you or following up after the person helps you. No one likes an opportunist, or feeling like they’ve been used.
While this strategy may seem easy and popular, it won’t give you much traction in the networking arena.
Here’s a story about an ultimate networking experience I had with a networking champ named Alexis. Alexis entered the networking ring with me by sending a clever email with the subject line “Adding to my professional little black book”. This jab immediately got my attention since I’d written an article on fattening your professional little black book on my website. This let me know that Alexis had been on my website and was coming at me from a personal angle. It also showed she was creative and got my dating/job search analogy. I was officially sucker punched and extremely flattered.
Next Alexis told me she had viewed my LinkedIn profile and was intrigued by my recruiting experience since that was an area she was interested in exploring. If I wasn’t too busy she’d love to meet and chat about my career and why I love recruiting. She had me against the ropes this time with her brevity (the email was only four sentences!). Not to mention she’d hit my soft spot by asking me to talk about myself and my career. This was a refreshing change from opportunistic emails I get from candidates who send messages to my book website asking for internship application statuses at the company I work for (I’m STRONGLY AGAINST using this tactic). So, of course I enthusiastically accepted her invitation to chat.
Her next move knocked me for a loop. When we met, Alexis didn’t bring her resume, ask me for a job, or request an interview. She simply told me a little about herself, asked thoughtful questions and genuinely listened to what I had to say about my career progression and the industries I’ve worked in. She was the consummate professional without giving me the sense she was brown-nosing or looking for anything more than my sage advice.
What really made me pat the mat was the way she thanked me for my time. Alexis sent me a thank you email that evening detailing what she learned from our conversation and included some web links to articles on topics I told her interested me. But the true knock out occurred when I received a package from her with a little black book that had the business card of a bakery attached to the first page. You see, I told Alexis I was looking for someone to make a specialty cake for my husband’s birthday and was having trouble locating one. I was seeing stars from her TKO and her reciprocity. She returned the favor by providing me with information I could also benefit from.
At the end of the day, networking is nothing more than relationship building. And to make any relationship work, you need to start with a little common courtesy. Alexis won me over by flattering my ego, respecting my time and personal space, saying thank you, and giving back. Who wouldn’t mind getting into the ring with someone like that?
Yolanda M. Owens is a recruiting sensei, intern whisperer and awarding-winning author of How to Score a Date with Your Potential Employer. Learn more about Yolanda and her employer “dating” tips by visiting her website or fan her on Facebook.