Networking? It’s not a One-Way Street.
In the Troup family, there is a legendary story involving my favorite uncle. He was a character larger than life and a permanent resident of the Sales Rep Hall of Fame. As the story goes, my uncle was stopped for driving his car down a one-way street, in the wrong direction. Fortunately, no alcohol was involved, and no one was injured. When questioned about his actions, his answer was a simple “What’s the problem? I was only going one-way.” If only developing a professional network for your job search worked in the same manner.
Like many of you, I receive frequent requests for networking connections and exploratory meetings. My parents raised me to always look to extend a helping hand. So, without fail, I will accommodate most of these requests. Perhaps I can help this individual further expand their network and aid in some small way in their career development or job search. Often, these meetings are a real two-way street. The world is full of interesting people. I learn something new, make a new connection and uncover information that may help me expand my own coaching business. Those are the great meetings where the information traffic flows in both directions. But increasingly, I see a disturbing trend in these requests and hear echoes of my uncle saying yet again that it is alright only to be moving in one direction.
As the storm clouds of recession gather on the economic horizon, the connection requests I receive have increased in the level of expected one-way benefits. A typical example would be a message from a mid-career professional saying something like “Hi Dan. Long time since we have talked. I recently lost my position in a company layoff. Let me know if you know of any open positions in (insert discipline and industry).” I also work with college students and receive requests saying “Hi Mr. Troup. I am a senior majoring in (insert major) at (insert college or university). Do you know anyone I can speak with about job openings at (insert company)?” Absent my generous nature and my parents’ voices in my head, what is my incentive to respond or take the meeting?
Networking is more than a one-time contact or a one-way street. Developing a professional network is about building real relationships. Healthy relationships deliver meaning and value for both participants. To establish a professional network that you can leverage in a job search, you need to nurture your network relationships. An active and engaged network will always deliver more opportunities to you than a dormant professional network that forgets you one day after the latest contact.
Here are three fundamental principles to inject real value into your networking activities and keep your contacts in your corner:
Prepare in advance to bring value to the networking contact. For example in a network outreach message, “Hi Dan. I would love to meet to learn more about your former career in sales enablement. I am looking to transition into the sales enablement profession having lost my position at Company X. Additionally, I see that you now do job search coaching. With a more informed understanding of your services, I may be able to refer some of my former colleagues your way for consultation.” For sure, I am taking that meeting and will be fully invested in developing this professional network contact.
Stay in touch with your network contacts on a regular basis. I’m not advocating a new career as a stalker. But periodic communication leveraging email and LinkedIn can pay big dividends in your job search. Be sure to follow your contacts on LinkedIn, comment on posts and share content that may be of interest to the contact. For instance, I was a graduate student at the University of Rochester back in the dark ages. Any network contact who is a current student at the UR Simon School that keeps me up to date on exciting developments at the school, I am going to remember and want to help.
Don’t “sell yourself” to your network in exploratory meetings. Do not bring your resume to an exploratory interview. Instead, use your network contacts as job and career information resources. View them and their value as mentors and guides to aid you in your job search. Instead of the resume, bring good listening skills, your personal story, and some humanity to the meeting. We are all interesting and have something to share. That includes you. Make the meeting a conversation and not an interview. Do that, and they will remember you, invest in you and likely want to meet again in the future.
Practice these networking principles, and your network will be certain to grow exponentially. And with a strong network, well crafted personal branding materials and excellent interview skills, that next job will be yours!
Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a certified career coach can assist you in your job search, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.