Finding a job, not matter how difficult and complicated it may be, is easier than finding the right job. The right job is one where you bring something to the table that your boss really wants, while at the same time you have room to grow, like your co-workers and believe in your organization’s mission. Both sides contribute to and benefit from the partnership.
You can’t find such a thing by scouring job boards and applying electronically. You can only find these opportunities through good, old-fashioned networking – face-to-face connections. With nonverbal communication sending more than half the message, you can see why it would be important to spend some time with people before committing 40 hours a week to them.
As someone who networks a lot with “the hire power,” meaning I have the power to hire others, I see a lot of bad networking habits. Primarily, I find new contact rarely follow up with me, never tell me exactly how I can help them, and talk so generally that they all seem interchangeable in my mind. So why would I remember them when I hear of opportunities, let alone, recommend them for the opportunity.
Here’s some networking lessons I recently shared with a group of newly minted college graduates who were beginning their job hunt:
1) DEVELOP CONTACTS, DON’T JUST PUT THEM IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK – A lot of people complain that the contacts they get at various events don’t help. I found, however, that these people usually just gather cards and stick them in their address book. But they never follow up and develop these contacts. They are not really contacts until you actually contact them – more than once. Otherwise, they are merely someone you met once and sent a “it was great meeting you” email. Then when they finally do reach out, they basically say “Hi, I’m the same person, looking for the same opportunity as last time we spoke…just want to remind you I’m still here.” Instead, each contact should be an update with new info, such as, “Hi, since last we spoke about opportunities to write for a police procedural (TV show), I’ve done a few ride-alongs with police in LA and 4 suburbs. I would love for you to join Officer X and me for a drink. He has some great stories, and we can tell you about this one time…” If you have done something to make yourself more appealing to your contact, you will not have to remind them who you are – they will remember and you will be cocktail party fodder like, “This dude I met at a cocktail party a year ago took me to the bar where the cops hang out after they get off their shift. Beer’s only $2 and you wouldn’t believe this one story they told me.” Trust me, when that writing job on a cop show comes up, you’ll be the first person to come to mind.
Also, ask yourself what you’ve done to further the careers of others…and keep a list of those who have helped you. Maybe send a $5 Starbucks gift card out of the blue – or better yet on a date special to them like the anniversary of their first writing job. Show you listened to them, thank them for their help and give them an update…this works better when you have a cool update.
2) FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS – Common error from entry level to the C-Suite – trying to be all things to all people…aka “leaving my options open.” Do not say “I am a writer, but I will take an assistant spot” or “I like writing sketch comedy, but I’m open to sitcoms and dramas” or “I’ll do anything as long as I work in TV.” Do not make your contact work too hard to figure out how they can help you. And, again, do not be a commodity. Stay focused and help your contacts help you find that specific job opportunity.
3) EXPLAIN/APPLY UNCOMMON EXPERIENCE – What makes you different, makes you beautiful! (Ok, that was Backstreet Boys song, but it’s true.) If the person you are speaking with doesn’t think your experience counts, then you need to change the way you present it. Change the explanation with each person you meet until someone gets it, then keep saying it that way. I’ve worked in NYC, DC and briefly in LA before returning to Texas. At first, everyone acted as if I was bragging when I mentioned this, even though I meant to showcase my national contacts and unique experience. I finally realized that it doesn’t matter if I don’t think I was bragging, that is how it appeared. So I had to change how I presented that info. I know that understanding the landscape in these three cities is amazing and unusual and valuable when you live in the rest of the country. I started to present the info (after many, many failed attempts) as my being able to help Texas businesses navigate these three key cities. When I would find someone in one of the cities who would help a Texas business…boom…I’ve gone from bragging to delivering.
4) BE UNIQUE, NOT A COMMODITY – You want to go where you will stand out. Do not attend events where you stand next to your competition when you look for a job or a client. You can mingle with competitors when you are improving your skills, like writers talking about writing. However, when job hunting, go where the people who can help you get the job are. For example, if you write health-related products, attend conferences with doctors in a specialty you understand, so you can speak their language and show off your writing talents. If you are a consultant who is an expert in manufacturing efficiencies, attend manufacturing industry conferences on new technology, if you want to find clients with the interest and money to hire you to help them implement what they are learning at the conference.