A simple yet effective networking tip to help with your job search even if you’re shy? What could this golden gem be? Is there a magical trick? Some secret sauce only the most savvy networking pros know about?
Yup. Ready or not…here it is. Career Networking 101. Just say hello. I’m not kidding.
I’m working with a woman who attended a reception this week filled with people in the field she’s trying to get into. Since she told me she’s shy and these kind of situations are a bit intimidating for her, I suggested she see this particular event as merely good practice for the work we’re doing together – and not put any extra pressure on herself.
We worked on two basic goals: (1) Say hello; and (2) Get some cards from the people who were most open to her. And she did both and told me she actually had a good time and was amazed at how much easier networking was for her this time compared to times in the past. To be honest, even I was amazed. I never knew this stuff worked quite so fast!
Some handy-dandy job search networking tips
When you’re at a gathering like this, especially if you’re shy, you might first want to go up to some groups and just stand and listen for a while – just to get warmed up. Listen much. Talk little – at least at first – especially if you’re not one of the regulars. It’s a good way to get your networking feet wet. But since regulars are often engaged in each other and leave little room for networking newcomers, unless you already know someone in the group, it’s probably best to go off on your own and find people standing by themselves.
So what’s the real networking secret?
Just go up to the person, smile, and say hello. Be very present. (That means don’t be thinking about what you should have said or what you’re going to say – just be there now.)
After you say hello…listen. Wait to hear how they respond and then respond back. If the other person seems a bit shy too, just ask a question. Nothing major needs to occur. You don’t have to think of something brilliant or clever or some bon mot you prepared well ahead of time. Just really listen. And then when it’s your turn, just answer. And be real.
The trick to good listening is to actually want to find out about the other person. And the nice part about that is people often find you more interesting if you ask about them and actually find them interesting. Have you ever seen a person networking and even as they ask you a question, they’re already checking out to see who else is around? This is a huge mistake. You never know who a person is or who they know. Treat everyone as a potentially valuable ally. (Personally, I happen to think that’s a good rule to follow in life.)
Every true networking genius knows this
EVERYONE has something interesting about them no matter how they look or what you may have heard about them. And everyone is potentially a contact either now or in the future, so burn no bridges behind you. (Ever meet a secretary at a party who you dissed? Ever try to get an appointment with her boss after that?)
Now back to those networking tips…
So rather than you trying to impress them or worry that you may not be important enough for them…just ask about them. Or see where they aim the conversation after you say hello and take it from there. If you go blank and feel you have nothing to say, ask another question. Do your best to stay in the conversational moment. No agenda. No prepared speeches. No pushing for your own agenda. (Although a short informal-sounding pitch explaining who you are and what you want to do is a very good thing to have when they ask you about yourself.)
And, at the end, if they are involved in what you’re interested in or might in some way be able to help you, politely ask if you may have their card. (It’s good if you have one too, by the way.) And after you leave them, jot a few notes on the card to remind you who the person is and what you talked about.
Why take a card and meet for an informational if there’s no job?
A few days later, you write each person a polite snail-mail note asking if you may meet with them briefly for some advice on how to get into that field or whatever. That’s all. Again no pressure. Even if there’s no job, by pursuing these no-pressure, no-commitment informational meetings (also called informationals), you might get leads that get you to more leads and eventually to contacts with real jobs. It’s slow at times…but you get there.
I met with my client today and had to laugh. For the first 10 minutes she just asked about me. And she really listened well. With energy and a sincere sparkle in her eyes that showed me she was right there with my every word. When I smiled and told her how well she had learned her skills, she looked me in the eyes and told me “But I’m really interested.” And it felt 100% sincere. (Not that I doubt how interesting I am.) Seriously…if I’d a job, I’d have hired her that minute!
So how do you find people to network with?
As for where to find places to network or other sources of people for those informationals … ask your family and friends, read the trades, read newspapers and magazines, ask former teachers, join alumni associations, go to LinkedIn, attend conferences in the field you want to get into, browse for local events, scour wherever you can for names at companies. Even use your informal pitch at social events. Heck…use it at bus stops if it feels right!
See if you can get at least one short information-only interview to get your networking ball rolling. Be determined. Be creative. You just need one good informational meeting to start the networking chain. By the way, I think informationals work best if you don’t actually ask them for a job. If they have one, they’ll most likely tell you. If they don’t, they won’t feel pressured.
A great thing I recently heard is that when you ask for help, most of the time people will try in some way to give you that help. And once they do, it’s like they’re taking stock in your dream and will continue to want to help – or at least be there to encourage you. I love that!
And as I mentioned, don’t forget to at least casually talk about your dream quest to everyone you know or meet. I got a life-changing job by talking about it to anyone I could…and finally mentioning it to someone I met at a barbecue. He knew someone who knew someone…and voila! I had my new job.
If you’re job hunting and people can see how much life you show when you talk about your dream or things you care about related to your career quest, eventually you’ll find people who want to help and who will add their own energy to yours. And that’s why networking can be so powerful – and so effective in landing a job. Nowadays, it’s your best bet.
And it all starts with “Hello.”
New Work Coach Cafe Policy:
Although I had to stop answering individual questions (to preserve my sanity), as always your thoughts and stories are VERY welcome here.