In career services, recruiting and talent acquisition circles, we constantly talk about networking. It's a well worn word and concept. The word networking has been used since the late 1970's. If you conduct a Google search for a definition of "networking" you'll find a minimum of 163,000,000 hits. Even if you refine the search, there are hundreds of thousands of definitions for networking. That's why the idea of networking can be overwhelming for both new college grads and experienced professionals. Most people don't even really know how to network. They tend to envision networking as an awkward meeting involving a stilted,generic conversation followed by a meaningless exchange of a business cards. You can "network" this way and it will be useless.
The most important step in networking is knowing what you "net want." Increasingly, I discuss goal setting,relationship bulding and long term career planning in my interactions with students and clients. The intention of this thought process means that you to take responsibility for the outcome of the effort. Yet, the problem with networking is that it has the word "work" in it. It sounds so daunting. So from this moment forward, I refuse to use that word! I am advising everyone to focus on "netweaving."
Netweaving creates a different mental image and involves a different apporach to building relationships. My definition of netweaving is when like-minded people share expertise,exchange contacts and information while building and renewing rleationships that cross paths through related events, processes and technologies; Netweaving is the effortless use of personal interactions (and technology) to build relationships that lead to positive results for everyone involved. So how does one effectively netweave?
1)What do you net want? First, determine the industry, company or job you plan to pursue and focus on making contacts. No one can help you when you have no idea what you want. Identify, prioritize and target industries, positions and people in your circles. Who do you know, who knows someone in the company, industry or career you want? Do you customize your emails, resume and cover letter for each contact? What do you have to offer? How do you show your personality and professionalism? Are you using all of the features on LinkedIn and Twitter to establish a professional, personal brand? Social media is here to stay. Employers and others will check you out online at a far higher rate than ever before. 80 percent of recruiters say they Google your name, check Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn upon receiving a resume or inquiry. What does your digital brand say about you? Are you watching and learning from the trends in your industry or preferred company? LinkedIn has a new "companies" feature. You can now follow companies and learn who has been hired as well as who is leaving an organization. This information allows you to understand more about the business needs, recruitment trends, education and experience levels of new employees. When you meet someone from that company or industry you'll have more information to use as a conversation starter.
2)Ask questions (or for help). If you do not understand an industry or career path ask someone who knows. This might be a career services professional or someone working in the industry or company you want. I am continually amazed by how many people walk around in a stupor of career confusion when help is often closer than you think. There is no need to be embarassed to ask for help. No one expects you know it all. So open your mouth and ASK for the support you need. The best kept secret of netweaving is that people really do want to help you. Make sure you're asking credible individuals and not just your peers or someone who is in your same employment boat. Don't be afraid to show some vulnerability without being overly pitiful or needy. Be sincere and authentic in your interest and the way you ask questions. If you are a recent graduate or in college, start with your alumni association or career services office to ask for basic help. As you meet new people at church or in other social situations ask them what they do, and how they ended up in that career. Many times you will find they are not in the same career they started after graduating from college. And that's okay, it might give you some ideas for a career path. We've all heard it before but community serivce and volunteering are great ways to meet new people while making a difference. What's your cause? What are you personally passionate about? Has some disease touched you or someone in your family? Going green? Missions? Go help other people. It does not have to be to some exotic far away country, it may be in your own neighborhood. Tell your story and ask others about theirs.
3)Use both online and interpersonal communication effectively. I know you've heard this before, but step away from the computer. Netweaving requires you to meet people and have face to face conversations with them. Be interesting and be interested in others. With a few well-placed questions you can listen more than you talk. When someone asks you to send a resume or information on your expertise, remember the person may be reading it from a Blackberry or iPhone so keep it short. Not just the length of the page, but the words across the page too. Avoid too many attachments. The cover letter is the body of the email. Make it easy for the person recieving your communication. It's easy to rely only on LinkedIn, Twitter or even Facebook to search for contacts and information. While I strongly suggest LinkedIn and Twitter as excellent netweaving tools, you must make personal contact. Ask for a short meeting or offer to share your expertise in person over coffee or lunch. Remember, to consider community service and other volunteer opportunities as a way to meet more people and give back. Try to have a personal contact once a week (at a minimum) for the purpose of discussing your career, helping someone else or developing a job search strategy.
4) Do I give up too easily? When netweaving avoid giving up if you don't get immediate, positive responses. If you do find someone who is genuinely interested in netweaving with you, do you follow up appropriately? The Wall Street Journal recently reported that there are a minimum of six people applying for every one job opening. Recruiters, hiring managers and professional contacts are all very busy. Check in with them 1-2 weeks after meeting them or sending an inquiry via email, resume or application. Avoid asking, did you get my information? Consider asking, is there any other information I can provide? Remind them of what you have to offer but focus more on your passion/knowledge for the industry or desire to help the organization reach its goals. Don't stalk a contact but find a balance between calling and sending electronic messages every week until you get an answer or new directions. Always thank people for taking time to speak with you or by email. Yes, politeness still matters. The reality of netweaving is that the threads of the touchpoints you make may not stitch together as easily or as quickly as you'd like. It may take anywhere from 6-9 months to weave the right relationships.
I believe we all have a calling and purpose. The hope is that we find a career where our day-to-day work and life's purpose align. We all seek to find that alignment. That complex tapestry takes time and thought to explore, but it's possible to tap into it. It's called netweaving. Start now...always give to others and a little bit of prayer never hurts either! Jeremiah 29:11