Why “Face Time” is Key When Networking
Social networking is de rigueur in a job hunt these days — online connections are a good way to spread word about your search quickly and efficiently, and also an important way to enlarge your network. But that’s just a start. Many job hunters make the mistake of finding new contacts online but then never meeting them in person. And that in-person contact can make all the difference in cementing a relationship that will help you in this search and throughout your career.
Why don’t job hunters make more of an effort to build “face time” into their search? A few obvious reasons: Scheduling can be difficult, you may not want to “trouble” the new contact and frankly, it’s often just easier to tap away at the keyboard and say that you’re networking. But if you really want to develop a community of people who will reach out to others on your behalf — which is how most successful job hunters land jobs these days as so many positions are not advertised — you’ll need to make that personal contact.
Here are some tips on how to do so effectively:
*Set firm but achievable goals. If you are job hunting full time, aim for at least one to two in-person meetings a week. If you are job-hunting-while-employed, one meeting a week may be a better target (you can work them in at your lunch hour or before or after work — perhaps on your way into work or on the way home). These don’t have to be long, involved meetings — we’re talking about a half hour for coffee. But if you make a goal of having in-person meetings at least once a week, you’ll get in the habit of doing so. And success breeds success — after someone you meet in person introduces you to someone in their network who can help you, you’re more likely to embrace this strategy. It works, but you have to work it!
*Get used to making the “ask.” After meeting someone online who could be a good contact, come right out and say you’d like to buy them a cup of coffee and discuss your mutual interests. Then offer a few dates (and times) that could work. Make it easy for them — say you’ll come to them (and if you know where they work, do a bit of research and suggest a coffee shop in the neighborhood, that’s less awkward for them than if you suggest going to their office). Be flexible and available. If they suggest other times and dates, work with that. If a phone call seems appropriate, a phone conversation is often a good warmup to an in-person meeting. Remember, they are doing you a favor and you want to be available, considerate and appreciative of this opportunity.
*Make the most of the meeting. Your goal in meeting someone face to face is to forge a connection that is difficult to achieve in the virtual world. Ultimately, you want them to help you by introducing you to others in a position to help you (and better yet, hire you!) yet you don’t want to seem crass or to be demanding. Start with small talk about your mutual interests — pay attention to what seems important to them and discuss that. Then be open and direct about your search and tell them where things stand and where you want to be headed. Often, if they feel like a connection has been made with you, they’ll mention organizations you should contact and people they may know there. That’s the best scenario. (Bring a notebook and take notes. You may think you got the details but it’s best not to leave it to chance.) If they don’t, ask them if there are people they could introduce you to in places that could be helpful. Again, don’t push but suggest. And never ask them to consider you for a job — this is about networking and if you’re too forward and push too hard, they may decide they don’t want you as a contact.
*Follow up. This is often where even savvy job hunters drop the ball. They have the meeting and make good use of the contacts suggested, but don’t get back to the person who introduced them. This is a key step. Within 24 hours of the meeting, send a thank you (email is fine) and if they seem interested, attach your resume or other material — such as a link to a story you discussed with them or to your Web site or blog. And if they make introductions for you, send them a quick email and let them know when you connected. You want to cement this contact not only for now but for the future, and keeping them in the loop is the best way to do that.
*Don’t rely only on the “usual suspects.” When you’re starting a search, it’s often comfortable to meet with former colleagues, for instance, who you’ve gotten to know in the past. That’s fine but branch out from there. Remember that it’s a numbers game — and the more people who are putting you in touch with other people, the better your chances of finding a position that not everyone else you know is seeking! That’s why it’s smart to make contacts with those outside your circle or even outside your profession who know a whole different group of people who may have access to a whole different set of openings. Also, seek out people who enjoy networking and likely will welcome the opportunity to put you in touch with others (see April 26 post, “How to network with the well-networked”). This not only will likely open up a number of doors for you but will be a more enjoyable face-to-face experience — as the well-networked tend to make others comfortable about the process. Just like most things in life (and in job hunting), the more practiced you are at face-to-face networking, the more effective a strategy it will become in your job search.