Professional networking: The one that got away

Guest Contributor Beth Cohen Moore.

When it comes to networking for my career, I guess you could say I’m a lot like most people. The thought of entering a room full of a whole bunch of people I don’t know and trying to sell myself appeals to me just about as much as throwing myself out of an airplane. Yet, I know that as a jobseeker, sitting behind a computer and pitching my resume into the black hole isn’t going to get me the job I want.

So recently, on the advice of my incredibly patient career coach, I recently found an appropriate group in my job search geography and attended a lunch and learn networking event with other professionals in my field. This was scary stuff, people!
In preparation for this event, I printed up my business cards, (thank you Tim’s Strategy and Tiny Prints), committed my elevator speech to memory, put on my best business suit and headed off to my first foray into face-to-face professional networking.

Do you know what? I had fun! I met a lot of really amazing, talented people. They welcomed me into their group and I found myself talking very easily about who I am and what I do. Most of the people I met were employed, but we had common ground – years of experience in our field – and this made connecting surprisingly easy.

As I chatted with those around me and exchanged business cards (believe it or not, this came very naturally), I noticed a young woman sitting nearby who was not engaging with anyone. She had that look on her face – you know the one. It’s that “Oh my God, what the hell am I doing here?” look. Mustering up all my courage I approached her and introduced myself.

Turns out she was newly unemployed and looking. And as it so happens, though we work in a different category of consumer products, our areas of expertise were quite similar. She had solid online marketing experience in the fashion industry with some very large brands. I instantly knew that I could be of some help to her in her job search through my connections to several recruiters who work in fashion and apparel.

Our afternoon speaker was about to start his presentation, so I handed her my business card (which of course has my LinkedIn address on it) and told her to contact me. I waited momentarily for her card and then realized she has come to this event without one. No way to contact her! I felt truly disappointed. However, as I found a seat I took comfort in the fact that this young woman said that she would make contact with me … and I believed her.

Weeks have now gone by since my inaugural networking event and I haven’t heard a word from my new job seeker friend. During this time, through my own job search, I have engaged with numerous recruiters who are looking for online marketing expertise in her field. I feel so frustrated. I have no way to find this young woman. I have no way to help her!

I think one of the reasons so many of us job seekers hesitate to attend face to face networking events is that we find it hard to ask for something – especially from strangers. We inherently believe that to be in need is seen as weakness in our (business) culture. But in feeling this way, we are making some huge assumptions about the people around us that aren’t necessarily true.

And something important has finally dawned on me.

As a talented candidate looking for work in this economy, when we show up unprepared, when we are afraid to ask, we are not only depriving ourselves of an opportunity, but we are actually depriving other people of the ability to help us! And we do this unintentionally!

I feel frustrated about being unable to fulfill my purpose as a professional networker to help this woman – the one who “got away.”

But I’ve learned a tremendous lesson in the nature of reciprocity. Give and get. It’s part of life – and it’s an important part of career networking.

What about you? Have you done everything you can to make it easy for people to help you in your search? Is it hard for you to ask for help from others as you look for a job? Why?


Guest Expert:

Beth Cohen Moore is a cross channel marketer who currently serves as Marketing Communications and Community Manager for CPGjobs. She is the Co-founder of Traxee.com, an online community for women runners and regularly blogs about technology, social media, career, job search and women’s health and physical fitness. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @bethcohenmoore.

80% can’t be wrong: Network

I read an entry on the Personal Branding Blog  which stated, “According to ABC News, 80% of today’s jobs are landed through networking.” This percentage of networkers represents smart jobseekers who understand that looking for and finding work takes…work.

They understand that personal networking coupled with online networking will yield better results than spending the majority of their time on Monster.com, Indeed.com, Dice.com, CareerBuilder.com, and other job boards.

Smart jobseekers attend networking events consisting of jobseekers, business owners, professional associations, meet-ups, etc. However, networking events are not smart jobseekers’ only, or even major, source of networking. They also utilize their rich network of former colleagues, friends, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, and others; or start the building process…and keep it going once they’ve landed a job.

Experts like Martin Yate, Knock ‘em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World,  will tell you that companies want to hire from within first; only when there are no appropriate internal candidates will they rely on referrals from employees (who get a bonus for a successful  hire) and people who will approach them through informational meetings. The latter category of jobseekers (you) have the benefit of getting known before the job is “officially posted.”

“…employees who come to the company ‘known by us’ in some way are seen to be better hires and thought to get up to speed more quickly and stay with the company longer,” Martin writesAnd this includes you. This is where relentless networking comes in, whether you contact someone at a company so they can get your résumé to a hiring manager, or you contact a hiring manager in your desired department to set up a meeting.

Pam Lassiter, The New Job Security, understands that networking can be daunting, particularly for Introvert types, but encourages jobseekers to do it, “Using your networking wisely is a muscle you can exercise and develop if you haven’t already. Outplacement and alumni career services surveys report that 65 to 85 percent of jobseekers find their jobs through networking….”

Some jobseekers misunderstand the purpose of networking. They think it’s all about them. They constantly ask without giving, which is the quickest way to drive away potential allies. People who have the true networking mindset realize that they should first help others, before thinking of themselves.

The bottom line is that helping other jobseekers will help you. Paying it forward increases your odds of landing a job. And, there are plenty of great networkers who will help you, as they realize they’ll eventually get help from others. They are patient and determined.

Here’s what one of my customers, who recently got a job, told me about proper networking: “Have a conversation with people [as opposed to] giving them a 30 second commercial.  It’s not about “I need a job.”  Have a really good conversations with a few people at an event and listen to what their needs are.   Think of how you can really connect with them and support them vs. just getting a business card.

Networking only makes sense, so I’m perplexed as to why some jobseekers don’t embrace it. I know that personal networking means going outside one’s comfort zone, particularly if you’re an Introvert (as an Introvert, I know the feeling). Developing the attitude that “I just have to do it” will help you over the hump.

We have more to talk about than introversion and extraversion

One thing that used to annoy me when my kids were young was when they’d ask me on Monday what we were doing for the upcoming weekend. The reason why this bugged me was because I had no idea what we were going to do, nor did I want to make plans—I wanted to take it as it came. Planning for an upcoming weekend takes a bit of organization and scheduling, none of which floats my boat.

I’ve often proudly stated that I’m an introvert. Now I’m here to tell all that I’m also a very clear perceiver. This explains my aversion to planning and also explains why I’m spontaneous and (in my own mind) exciting. Ergo my annoyance at constantly being asked by my lovely young children what we were going to do every weekend for 15 years.

You’d think that being a perceiver at work can be a detriment, as organization is essential to success. I totally agree that being organized is an essential skill. So I’m also here to tell you that I am organized, I do plan, and I follow a schedule…with intense concentration. Being a perceiver doesn’t mean one can’t practice the traits of a judger, those who are organized, need to plan, and follow a schedule, etc.

As one of the approximately 43% of the population that prefers perceiving, I’m surrounded by colleagues most of whom prefer judging. I envy their natural inclination toward organization, but I wouldn’t want to trade my natural strengths:

Spontaneity: I have the ability to walk into a room and deliver a workshop in hundreds of different ways (an exaggeration). If I’m bored with the presentation, I’ll go in a different direction. Now here’s the rub: on rare occasions my spontaneity will not work as I didn’t plan.

Adaptability: Oh my god, the projector blew a bulb. My manager decided to sit in on a workshop. My colleague is out and I have to take one of her workshops. More people showed up than expected. No problem. This is a great thing about perceivers, we don’t panic; we adapt.

Flexibility: Because I don’t particularly like to plan or live by a schedule—although I do—I love a variety of activities. I love a day when I have to drop working on a project to solve a problem that arrives or attend a meeting with the director of the organization or fill in for a colleague (related to adaptability). I therefore expect others to be flexible when I need some assistance.

Deadline driven: Yes we perceivers like to meet deadlines, but we don’t stress over them and drive others nuts about small details. I internalize deadlines and when they’re prolonged I get mad as hell. The way I see it, if you’re going to give me a deadline and I’m gonna try to meet it, own up to your end of the bargain.

It seems that introversion and extraversion are the only two factors of the eight Myers Briggs Type Indicator factors that people like to talk about, but how one leads one’s life is important to both one’s personal and professional lives. My kids may have been on to something when they constantly badgered me about the upcoming weekends. And I may have made a fool of myself when I veered off course during a workshop. But I’m cool with my preference and don’t mind adopting the preferences of a judger—it makes life interesting.

A risk not taken, is an opportunity lost

Many people are standing around a tranquil body of water with their fishing lines cast in it. They believe the water is abundant with fish. They’re content standing there exchanging a word or two, speaking of hope and opportunity. They feel like old friends who are in it together.

Before a cave stands one man looking into it, and from within the cave eyes stare at him. The eyes are frightening, for they could be the eyes of monsters; but on the other hand they could be the eyes of friendly people. The man’s just not sure of which. So he waits.

The people are comfortable standing around that body of water with fishing lines dangling from their poles. There’s comfort in numbers. The weather is fine—fine as in real fine, not sticky hot. Life is grand.

Because the man in front of the cave is afraid of dark spaces, he won’t enter it even if someone were to beat him with a stick. It’s better to wait.

Eventually the people grow tired of standing around the body of water with nothing happening. They get hungry and their arms get tired from holding their light fishing poles. They start lowering their poles, grumbling from hunger. Life isn’t so grand.

Because the man standing before the cave doesn’t feel particularly courageous, he stands there wondering if it’s worth entering. It’s damn cold out and whatever’s inside the cave seem to be comfortable. Whoever’s in there continue to look out, almost taunting him. It’s as if they know something he doesn’t, and this begins to bug him.

Risks are hard to measure and the outcomes are not certain. Because they’re hard to measure, safety (as in numbers) and a common belief (there has to be fish in the water) seem to be more viable. This is exactly why the man is having a hard time entering that cave; it’s risky. Soon he’ll discover that he is a risk taker, an explorer. At the moment he’s unsure of what to do.

The people around the body of water, who are now beginning to drop their fishing poles and swear about being hungry, aren’t risk takers. And look what it’s getting them. They’re getting no fish. Further, they’re beginning to think that even if there are fish in the water, there are too many people with whom to share the fish…if there are fish.

Eventually the man standing at the entrance of the cave decides that entering the unknown is better than standing there and getting nothing accomplished. He takes a breath and puts one step forward, backs up, takes another breath, again puts the foot forward, then puts the other foot forward, until he’s in the cave. And guess what, it doesn’t seem that dark when his eyes adjust.

What he sees around him are opportunities that were hidden from him until he took a risk—only it wasn’t really a risk, as it turns out. He only has one regret; he wishes he’d entered the cave a lot sooner.

Meanwhile the people round the body of water leave, each believing that there are fish in the water. The fish weren’t biting today, but tomorrow will be a new day with hope renewed. They’ll discover much later that the promise of fish was an empty one.

When giving advice to jobseekers, remember to keep an open mind

If you are going to advise jobseekers on how to properly conduct a job search, please do them a favor; get over yourself. That’s right, remember it’s not about you; it’s about giving your listeners options and opening their minds to possibilities.

Occasionally I’m told about speakers my jobseekers hear at  networking events who speak from one point of view, their own. One speaker told the audience that he never reads cover letters. Because he’s an eloquent speaker, an accomplished recruiter, I’m willing to bet everyone in the room left thinking, phew, I don’t have to write cover letters anymore.

Recently I heard of a hiring authority who said she prefers one-page résumés. Now, I know she was speaking for herself, but immediately following the presentation, one of my jobseekers rushed to tell me she was changing her résumé to a one-pager. I spoke with her and we agreed that she had enough experience and accomplishments to warrant a two-page résumé. Further, we agreed that she should construct a one-page résumé. I don’t have anything against one-page résumés, but different situations call for different types of résumés.

A job coach once told me that he doesn’t think job candidates should go to interviews prepared; rather they should go in and wing it. Better to be relaxed than all hyped up, he reasoned. Screw the research, right? He also tells jobseekers that cover letters are a waste of time. He never got a job using a cover letter, so what’s the sense for all jobseekers to write them.

We tend to give advice based on our experience, sometimes forgetting there are other points of view, other ways of doing things. I’m guilty of doing the same. In my mind a cover letter is a compliment to one’s résumé—you write one that’s tailored to each job for which you apply. But I also get that that some recruiters don’t read them. To some, cover letters are fluffy narrative that aren’t worth the paper (or bytes) they’re written on. My advice is to send a cover letter unless specifically told not to.

I realize that one-page résumés are preferred by some hiring authorities. Hell, I’d rather read a résumé that tells it all in one page. But some people have significant accomplishments that simply can’t be covered in one page. Nonetheless, I show my Résumé Writing workshop attendees an example of an excellent one-page résumé that consists of one hundred percent quantified accomplishments. I have an open mind.

Some jobseekers can go to an interview having not researched the company or position for which they’re applying and do quite well. They’re loose and confident. They have the gift of gab. I have to admit that I’ve never suggested an alternative to preparing for interviews, but perhaps I should…nah…prepare your ass off.

I cut my jobseekers a little slack when I explain the ways they can write their LinkedIn profiles, particularly when it comes to the summary. I like one that’s lengthy, written in first person, and tells a story. Others suggest summaries written much like a résumé’s. Not for me, but who’s to say what works best in certain situations. I’m sure hiring managers in the technical fields like things short and sweet. I tend to be long-winded. Can’t you tell?

Look, your advice is probably sound, but there’s more than one way to skin a…bad analogy. Just present sound options and let the smart jobseeker decide what’s best given the situation. Let’s face it, if there were only one way to tell people how to find a job, we’d be rich people. Or we’d be out of work.

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