EscapeBlog

Do You Suck at Networking? Here’s Help

January 29th, 2009

nametagEverybody knows how important networking is for your career, right? Well, most people may intellectually KNOW that they should be networking, but I am continually amazed that so many refuse to actually do it. And these are smart people. They just happen to be smart people who loathe the idea of walking into a room full of strangers with nothing but a name badge and a nervous smile.

But in today’s job market, networking is not just important. It’s critical. There is more competition for every opening and you need more than a great resume. It’s not enough to spend your days stalking the job boards (in fact, it’s a quick way to lose your mind if you don’t step away and talk to real humans once in a while).

So why are so many job searchers still stubbornly avoiding networking? I got a new sense of the level of resistance out there at a recent event for job hunters at The New York Public Library. I conducted several 20-minute “speed career coaching” sessions over the course of the day and spoke with people at many different career stages — from recent grads to seasoned industry vets.

They all had one thing in common — all said that they knew they should be networking more, but just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. They all needed to step up their networking games. And I hope they all will take my advice to step out of their comfort zones and start connecting and reconnecting.

Obviously, I’m not the only one telling them that networking is important. I recently saw a study that quantified the value of a strong professional network. According to research by Pepperdine University and Upwardly Mobile Inc., 70% of executives credit networking for their current jobs (compared to just 16% who credit job listings). And most aren’t even networking well — 75% said that they spend fewer than two hours per week on networking and focus on the wrong things.

So how can you become a better networker? Upwardly Mobile, the company behind the study cited above, has actually developed a nifty little web-based tool to help you. UpMo.com is currently in beta and I recently had the opportunity to test it out so I can give you the scoop.

You start out with a free Network Profiler assessment tool. After answering a series of questions, you’ll get a customized report that outlines how you’re doing as a networker, based on UpMo’s research on the habits of highly effective networkers. Your results will also identify the style of networking that you’re most comfortable with and suggest an UpModel, one of their superstar networkers that you can emulate.

My assessment results felt pretty right-on. I’m good at keeping in touch with close contacts and at staying informed about my industry. I’m not so great at meeting new people. So UpMo has assigned me a to-do list and a series of suggested tasks to help me improve in this area.

UpMo also informs me that my networking style is “Give First.” They describe my approach as: “I feel that helping others is the best way to build goodwill and respect within my network.” That’s also pretty accurate. I am much more likely to reach out or reconnect when I have information or resources to share.

Based on my profile and preferred approach, UpMo created a dashboard of tools that includes an action plan with tasks to prioritize and check off (all of you Type As will love this part). For example, this week I am supposed to be focusing on identifying new contacts that I’d like to meet and researching them so I can avoid asking stupid questions and making a bad first impression.

UpMo is currently in beta, but you can submit a request to become a beta user. You can also take the Network Readiness evaluation for free and get networking tips customized to fit your profile.

From my test drive, I think UpMo is worth checking out — especially if you are networking-averse. There is great value in just having a structured set of tasks so you can focus your efforts. You can start with easy tasks like organizing your contact lists and fine-tuning your professional bio. Then you can gradually step further outside of your comfort zone. I know I’m going to stick with it to see if UpMo can help me meet more new people in a way that doesn’t feel awkward or cheesey.

Because I can certainly relate to those who hate networking or feel they aren’t good at it. During my corporate days, I avoided networking events like the plague and just focused on relationships with the people I already knew or met through my daily routine.

But once I became an entrepreneur, I was forced to change my attitude. You can’t grow a business without networking. I was hooked once I started meeting interesting people and seeing how my life improved as a result of their advice, ideas, and good company. Networking still doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have learned to love it because of the wonderful friendships and career benefits that have come about because I put on a name tag (either virtual or adhesive-backed) and stepped out of my comfort zone.

While we’re on the subject, here are some more networking resources for those who need a networking push:

LinkedIn.com — If you are not on LinkedIn yet, you are truly missing out. Facebook is fun and can be a great networking tool, but LinkedIn is where you’re more likely to find your ex-bosses and the most interesting job listings. It’s easy and free to join. And who knows? Maybe that drinking buddy from three jobs ago will be able to refer you for an opening that hasn’t even hit the job boards yet.

I’m On LinkedIn, Now What? — Overwhelmed by all of the features and profiles on LinkedIn? This book by Scott Allen and Jason Alba will help you make the most of your LinkedIn membership.

Smart Networking — Liz Lynch is a networking guru. Check out her book and her blog for lots of great networking tips.

Buy The Book
12 Comments
Terrence Seamon

Great point about networking, Pam. I suspect that one of the reasons people fear networking is that their belief in themselves has suffered a setback due to the emotional bruising of downsizing.

And it was great meeting you at the NY Public Library event the other day. I was so impressed by all the coaches who freely gave their time and talent to help others in this difficult time.

Terry

Pamela Skillings

Thanks, Terry. It was great to meet you, too.

I think you’re absolutely right that it’s harder to network when you’re feeling down or are not yet comfortable talking about a recent layoff.

People don’t realize that networking can actually help boost their confidence. And it will absolutely show them that there are plenty of others who have been downsized and that there’s no negative stigma, especially if you learn how to tell your story the right way.

Jason Alba

Pam, thanks for the plug to my LinkedIn book – the link you point to is the “blog behind the book,” so there is plenty of free info there.

As I meet with people who are overwhelmed with the task of organizing a networking campaign (which really should be lifelong) I remember my frustration at the beginning of my job search – how in the world do you keep track of it all?

I created JibberJobber.com to be the tool to replace the job search spreadsheet, and manage all of the details of networking, target companies, jobs you apply to, etc.

Whether you use JibberJobber or salesforce, you really should use something robust to help you organize and manage the details of your relationships – it’s amazing how many people we can network with if we know who is in our network!

- jason

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Robin Elizabeth Margolis

Dear Friends:

This is an excellent article! Many articles on networking don’t deal realistically with peoples’ discomfort with it, and their lack of knowledge of how to manage networking.

I would like to second the author’s advice to join Linkedin.com — if you want to network, but are uncomfortable with rooms full of new people, Linkedin is a “virtual” way to network that is far more comfortable.

After meeting people online in Linkedin, it is far easier to email them and request in-person meetings.

I would recommend another book on Linkedin, which has very rich features that are not apparent when you first join — it is “LinkedIn for Dummies” by Joel Elad. The book is a very easy-to-read manual on how to get the most out of Linkedin.

Don’t be put off by the book’s title — the book is quite sophisticated.

Cordially,
Robin Elizabeth Margolis
Director, E-Discovery Paralegals Network
http://www.ediscoverypara.wordpress.com

Kim Avery, Certified Career Coach

One of the difficulties my clients frequently face is the narrow concept they have of their network. It’s easy to think about building your network with friends, family, associates, and your Aunt Sally. But once these resources are exhausted, job seekers easily feel stuck.

When brainstorming potential contacts, don’t forget to include:

* Members of professional organizations
* Past or present co-workers
* Friends you’re in touch with regularly
* Old friends, such as college buddies whom you see infrequently
* Members of your religious community
* Peer volunteers
* Informational interviewees
* Your kids’ friends’ parents
* Your mentor(s)
* Business associates, such as customers, clients, vendors, and suppliers

Once we begin brainstorming, we are usually pleasantly surprised by the number of people we already know.

New York Universities

Very informative article.Thank you for posting

Arvind Juneja

Very interesting text. I think a lot of people are scared of networking as they think of it like of some kind of “you’re my friend, you suck on doing your job but you’ll get it anyway” or “so I’ll hire my son even though he doesn’t know anything about the job, he’s my son”…

people don’t understand that networking is about helping each other and in the same time helping ourselves. One of the most valuable parts of networking is recommendation. If I recommend someone I sign it with my name. So if we think about it we can realize that if I sign my name under recommendation for someone who is not qualified (see example above) I will get my *** kicked as hard as that person when he get fired for being useless. Also the idea of networking goes like this

Help yourself by helping others. If you help others and they will manage to do big things they will be able to help you if you need them.

Unfortunately I don’t know the term (in english) for that negative way of helping out.. but I am aware that because of it a lot of people are afraid of networking and think of it in a wrong way… almost as bad as MLM :P

anyway, nice article. looking forward for new ones ;)

Paula G

Good advice. I went from loathing networking to enjoying it. Most important shift I made was to simply be myself and be genuinely curious about others. No agendas. I also have given myself permission to only go to events that feel aligned with me, my values, and my energy. Not surprisingly the ones I enjoy most are also the most successful for my business. And for the events or online connections that don’t feel great, I can let them go gracefully.

Will You Be My Mentor? Pingback

[...] I wrote about my test drive of UpMo.com, a new online career and network management tool, a few weeks ago. It’s still in free beta if you want to try it out yourself. [...]

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Simon Stapleton

I found that getting into the networking scene was tough. I am generally a confident and outgoing person, so that wasn’t the problem, it was more the Waddyasay? and HowDoYouDo? thing.

Guess what though; the more I persisted and put myself into the situation, the better I coped and now I am many months beyond the rookie stage, it comes naturally and I can’t say with precision what it was that changed in me. Probably because it’s like learning to read, or riding a bike…

… it just happens the more you practice!

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