Networking Error

If you’re networking to find a job, you’re doing it wrong.

Don’t network to get a job. Network to build value-added relationships. The job will come.

When people begin their job search, they often start by calling and e-mailing everyone they know in hopes of getting a job, or a better job. Imagine hearing from someone that you haven’t heard from in five years. The person says, “Hey, I would love to buy you a cup of coffee. I’m in a career transition, and I’m wondering if you might know of someone who would benefit from my particular skills and experience.” That sounds an awful lot like, “I need a job. You got one?” I bet you’re pretty excited to meet with that person, aren’t you?

This same scenario happens at “networking events.” A networking event can be a Happy Hour gathering, a community event, a fundraiser or a kids’ sporting event. If you go into that gathering with the attitude of, “I’m going to let people know I’m looking for a certain kind of job and see if I stir up any interest,” then you are not going to be successful over the long term. You might get some leads for a job, but you are not going to be looked upon as a real player in the job market over the long term.

Give value in order to get value

Paradoxically, the way to get leads for great jobs is to not focus on getting a job while you are networking. When you are networking, which means meeting the type of people that you want to meet, focus on four activities:

  1. Get to know the other person and find out what is of value to him or her.
  2. Determine how you can add relevant value to the person.
  3. Deliver that value.
  4. Stay in touch with that person by periodically delivering value that matters to him or her.

Imagine you’re at a neighborhood party. Everyone is having a good time. You get into a conversation with a person that you would like to have in your professional network. Don’t ask the person to sign up for your LinkedIn or Twitter account. Don’t tell him or her what you’re good at or about your job experiences.

Just ask the person about his or her job. Learn as much as you can about the person’s responsibilities. Find out what excites the person and what motivates, frustrates and challenges him or her. Learn about the person’s interests outside of work.

Then when you get home jot down some notes about the person. Put the notes in a file. Then start to think about how you can add value to that person. Perhaps you can recommend a book or forward an online article to that person. Maybe you see an article in a magazine that you think would be of value to that person. You may know someone that you can connect to this person where both individuals will benefit from meeting each other.

Keep your focus on the other person, not on yourself. Be conscientious about adding value to that person over an extended period of time.

Focus on quality, not quantity

Notice the work involved in effective networking. If you want to build value-added relationships – which means you add value first and hopefully gain value later – it takes a fair amount of time and effort. You cannot meet 100 people at a party, get to know each of them, find out what makes them tick, determine what will be of value to each of them and send them real value on a consistent basis. That is just not going to happen.

Instead focus at a gathering on meeting one or two people that you will really want to build a relationship with. You may have to talk with 15 people to find the one person who fits the type of person that you want in your professional network. It helps a great deal if you know the type of person you want to stay connected to before the networking event begins.

The buzzword today is “social networking.” And there are the occasional success stories where someone met someone else through some form of electronic social networking and ended up getting a great job. However, there are a whole lot of other stories where people signed up hundreds of thousands of people on their Twitter accounts and ended up with no real value-added relationships.

If you are going to work to build relationships via social networking tools, I encourage you to maintain the mind-set that quality is far better than quantity. Building value-added relationships implies that there is a relationship there. It’s a professional relationship, but it’s still a relationship, which means you will have to invest time and effort into making that a good relationship.

Communicate the value you want

Once you have built a value-added relationship with another person, you are in a much better position to let him or her know about what you are looking for. This doesn’t happen in the first month that you met the other person. Give it at least 90 days of contact before you can feel confident enough to inquire about a career opportunity. When you get to the point that you want to discuss your career, don’t use the phrase, “I have a favor to ask.” Instead say, “I’m looking to make a move in my career. The thing I love to do the most is manage groups to achieve breakthrough results. (Put in whatever the right finish to that statement is for you.) If you come across anything like that, I would be excited to follow up on it.”

You do have to let people know what you want in order to get it. However, there is an art to this. You don’t bludgeon the other person over the head with, “I need a job. You got one?” the very first time you meet him or her. Instead you build value-added relationships with people and eventually the value will flow toward you. Building a value-added network is something I encourage you to do in good times and bad times, when you have a job and when you are looking for a job. Since it should take you about 90 days before you are in a position to let the other person know about a job you want, it’s best to network on a consistent basis over the long term.