Some job seekers see attending organized networking events as akin to meeting their future in-laws for the first time. For some it’s downright frightening; one job seeker told me she hyperventilates before she goes to an event. Wow.
Perhaps you feel similar symptoms, dreading the times you have to attend organized networking events.
You’re expected to engage in conversation about you and the strangers you meet, deliver your elevator pitch, maintain proper posture, exchange business cards, refrain from eating messy food, etc.
Take away the expectations that come with attending a networking event, and you’re left with simply connecting with people in your community. You’re more relaxed. There’s no pressure to perform like you would at a networking event.
Community includes the people with whom you interact: former colleagues, small meet-ups, friends, family, neighbors, soccer parents, PTA members, your hair stylist, the folks with whom you volunteer, your career center staff—essentially everyone in your life.
Am I suggesting that you avoid networking events? Certainly not. There are opportunities these events provide, but by connecting with people in your community valuable opportunities also exist. Some important points to consider when connecting in the community include:
- Get the word out. As simple as this sounds, I know people who don’t tell family or friends they’re out of work because of shame and embarrassment. Regardless of how you departed your company/organization, your community has to know you’re no longer employed. There is no shame in being unemployed, as thousands of others like you are in the same situation.
- Don’t come across as desperate. One thing employers look for in a candidate is confidence. The same applies to your community. Someone who appears confident and not phased by their situation is someone your community members will be willing to back.
- Make a good first impression. Along with projecting a positive attitude, dressing well at all times, being considerate of people’s time, going out of your way to help others, and of course smiling all count. The saying that your first impression is your last impression holds true.
- Resist the urge to bash. Regardless of how your employment ended, don’t rant about how unfairly you were treated and the circumstances of why you were let go or laid off. If asked about your departure, explain how it happened, but don’t come across as angry. If you’re not past the anger stage, avoid talking about the situation.
- Know what you want to do. Your community can only help you if you are able to explain very clearly what occupation you’re pursuing, the industry in which you’d like to work, even the location you prefer. To say, “I’ll do anything; I just need a job” is not helpful to people in your community, and will make you appear desperate.
- Clearly explain what you do. To say, “I’m in customer service” is not enough.Telling your community that you “answer customers’ questions regarding their cable, telephone, and Internet issues” paints a better picture and provokes follow-up questions.
- Do your research. What type of companies do you want to work for? What are the names of those companies? This is all important information, especially if you know of someone in your community who has a contact or two at those companies. Casually connecting with these people by making a phone call or meeting them for coffee can lead to results.
- No events are off limits. Bar-b-ques, holiday parties, baby showers, your nephew’s birthday party, are appropriate places to connect to explain your status. Just be tactful and don’t dominate conversations with your job search woes. Instead briefly explain what you do and ask people to keep their ears to the pavement.
- Start small. An alternative to an organized networking event is a meet-up. This is a small group consisting of 4 or 5 people who get together to discuss their job-search situation, hold each other accountable, offer job-search advice, and provide moral support.
- Carry personal business cards with you. That’s right; even when you connect with your community in a casual way you’ll want to show how serious you are about finding a job. It shows professionalism and helps people to remember what you do and the type of job you’re seeking (related to numbers 4 and 5). Unlike your resume, they are easy to carry.
- Never outright ask if they know of a job. If you want your community to help you, don’t ask if they know of any jobs that would suit you. This only puts pressure on them. One phrase I used when I was out of work was, “If you come across anything, please let me know.”
- Stay top of mind. Ping the people in your community with updates on your job search or just to keep in touch by sending them e-mails or cards on special occasions. It doesn’t always have to be about your job search; asking a contact how their child’s play went is a good break from business. Doing this will keep you top of mind.
- Follow up. Perhaps the most important part of you job search is following up on the people with whom you’ve spoken. Chances are they for got your conversation a couple of days ago. Kindly tell them, “I’m following up on our conversation. When you get the chance to send me Bob McIntosh’s contact information, I would appreciate it very much.” Always follow with asking them how you can be of assistance.
- Reciprocate. When you finally get your job, be sure to show your gratitude by offering to help those who assisted you with your job search. This means everyone. You may not be able to provide the same kind of help, but maybe you could help someone with her small business, for instance. Keep the good will in your community going.
Connecting with people in your community should feel natural and relaxed, not stiff and laborious. Connecting at networking events can have great benefits, and over time you’ll learn to network better; but begin by establishing relationships with the people in your community and build your way up to attending the events.
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Photo: Flickr, Ormiston Sudbury Academy