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?
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.