By Arnie Fertig
Do you remember your mother warning you over and over again when you were a young child: "Never speak to strangers"?
As adults, in order to progress in our careers we need to continually reach out and meet new people and develop new relationships.
This is what we call "networking."
Yet, for many of us, the fear of strangers we learned as children is hard to unlearn.
Surprisingly, a seemingly gregarious state-wide office holder recently confided, "One of my least favorite things is going into a room of strangers, going from table to table to introduce myself."
However, because he is willing to confront his discomfort on a regular basis, he has become a leader beloved by many. And, if you make a plan and stick to it, you too can become adept at mastering situations both in-person and through social networks online that will be of great benefit to you.
You are naturally a part of many networks already: your family, friends, co-workers, alumni or professional organizations, neighborhood or religious groups – the list goes on and on. Any group of which you are a part can be considered a network.
Most of us are fine in any of these family, social, or community settings. But when it comes to networking for a job we panic. In this context we forget too often that networking is about building productive relationships that in turn can lead to great job opportunities.
One of the biggest "networking failures" is when you think that networking is only about you getting others to help you get a job.
A worldwide organization, Business Networking International (BNI), continually reminds its members that effective networking is when you "give to get."
You will be most successful getting what you want when you extend yourself for the other person before asking or expecting anything from them.
To be successful networking for a new job, consider crafting a well-thought out strategy with these elements:
In order to project yourself outward, and draw people to you at the same time, it is critical that you understand “who you are.”
In today’s parlance, that means developing a succinct, identifiable and unique personal brand.
You can be confident of yourself as the professional you are – and project yourself as such, even if you are not currently receiving a paycheck.
When someone asks you to tell about yourself you don’t need to say, “I’m unemployed” or “My background is…” and continue with a long story.
Instead, simply offer your brand: “I’m a such-and-such professional, with expertise in A, B, and C.”
Delivering information of value makes you stand out from everyone else.
It is easier than you might imagine to make important contributions to those you network with on LinkedIn’s Groups, or at live events. Ask an intelligent question about what the speaker or writer is trying to say, or shed some light on the issue from a different vantage point.
Better yet, write an article that will be of interest to others that highlights your own knowledge about your professional field, a particular tool or approach you’ve taken that gets results. Relate what you’ve learned through study, or research you’ve conducted. Offer to lead a program at an alumni dinner, speak at a professional symposium, or in any other context where you can make a contribution.
Contributors are seen as leaders, and leaders are seen as good “hires” by recruiters and executives.
Make yourself a pivotal individual by introducing people you know, or information you learn, in one context with people you know in a different context.
You might, for example, be in any number of LinkedIn groups that deal with your particular skills doing AAA in industry X. If you are looking to move into another industry, explore how you can share what you learned about the skill in one place as a new way of doing something in that new field.
Often, people only think about networking when they need something: a job. But if you approach people with an air of desperation, they will flee before you. "Yes, but this is what I need, NOW!" you might respond. Of course it would be great if you could snap your fingers and someone would wave a job offer in front of you. But in reality, it rarely happens that way.
An often-used rule of thumb suggests that you should anticipate spending a month looking for a job for each $10,000 of base salary you expect to earn.
It will take time, but if you become an active and purposeful networker, it will ultimately pay off. You will be a stronger, more valuable professional for your next employer when you take the time to learn, to teach, and most especially engage with an ever-broadening network of your peer professionals.
Job-Hunt's Social Media and Job Search Expert Arnie Fertig, MPA, works with clients throughout the U.S. who are dedicated to their own career advancement on the nuts and bolts of job hunting. He is the Head Coach at Jobhuntercoach.com, and contributes weekly to the USNews & World Report "On Careers" Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, on Twitter (@jobhuntercoach), or directly: Fertig [at] jobhuntercoach.com.