A significant part of your career search should be meeting people who can help you achieve your objective of finding another opportunity. That generally means networking and since the objective of networking is employment, we call it employment networking or networking for employment.
Too often, when we try to understand how to network for employment, we usually associate it with business networking or interviewing.
What is employment networking not?
- Business networking is not employment networking. Business networking is promoting your services or products to as wide an audience as possible with the anticipation that some of those you meet might have a need for your products or services either now or at some time in the future. You are looking for business so you need to be able to quickly describe the pain you solve for them or why they need what you have to offer.
- Interviewing is not employment networking. Interviewing is when you are being considered for a specific opportunity and you need to demonstrate to an employer (or recruiter) that you have the skills and capabilities to do what the employer wants.
What, therefore, is employment networking? Employment networking is research.
Research means you have a specific objective or longer term goal in mind and you are connecting with others to obtain something of value that can help you to achieve your objective or goal. When you think of networking as research it will have a dramatic change in the dynamics of your conversations.
In 12 Steps to a New Career, I devote a whole chapter to employment networking so I won’t repeat it all here. First, I’ll summarize the three objectives you want to accomplish when you are networking for employment. Second, Ill walk you through how best to approach employment networking under different scenarios.
1. Employment networking objectives
I use the acronym IOU to help people remember the three objectives or phases of networking, which are:
I – Initiate
O – Obtain
U – Use
I – Initiate.
Your first objective when you meet someone is to Initiate a relationship. This is similar to social networking. You start by finding something you and the other person have in common to see if there is any chemistry. You are friends with others because you did something to create some chemistry. It may be different with each of your friends but you still had to take the time to find what it was you both had in common.
If you are successful at initiating a relationship with someone at your first meeting, you have an opportunity to ask if you can get together again for a one-on-one conversation. It’s then OK to mention that you are in transition and you would like their advice or help on something specific. If you’ve created a relationship and if your request sounds logical and a legitimate request for help, you will likely get that meeting.
O – Obtain.
Your second objective is to Obtain something, in the form of advice, suggestions, or referrals. When you meet with the person, you want to continue developing the relationship before you get to your request. Without wasting the other person’s time, quickly bring them up to speed about your background and briefly explain the position you are seeking. This is critical. You must be very clear about the position you’re seeking, what you bring to the table, and what help or viewpoint you need. Is it about a referral to a specific company? Is it about transferring your skills from one industry to another. Be specific, yet be sure the questions you ask are ones that you think the other person can answer.
If you are successful at this stage, you will have obtained some answers or other valuable input to your search. You might even agree that you’ll revise your verbal message and/or your resume and set a time to meet again. You might not get a referral after a first meeting but may need to build on the relationship before the other person feels comfortable risking their reputation by referring you to someone with whom they have an established relationship.
U – Use.
The third objective is to Use what you’ve obtained. If you’ve successfully initiated a relationship and built on it so that the other person likes you and feels comfortable with your skills and experience, you will be able to use what you gained from this person to revise your message or your resume or to obtain a referral to someone else who may have the ability to consider you for employment.
Do not attempt to short circuit the IOU phases and think you can concentrate on the Use phase alone. If you haven’t established a relationship, you will not get the help you need.
2. How to approach employment networking
Everyone you meet in one-on-one situations is a candidate for using the IOU approach outlined above. If you attend an event that is not wholly about job search, use the IOU approach. Don’t focus on collecting as many business cards as you can because those people will not help you without your having initiated a relationship first. Focus instead on meeting a few people who will agree to meet with you again. If you are trying to initiate a relationship and the other person is distracted, they are not interested in you and you need to excuse yourself and move on to someone else.
Those people you meet and with whom you do develop a relationship will refer you to others when they get to know you better. If you take your time to develop and build relationships with others, your network will work for you.
There are times when you attend a networking event that is targeted specifically at people in transition. At these events, you won’t have time to build relationships since there may be time limits imposed to keep people from taking too much time with one person. At these events, you need to have your verbal business card down pat, the proverbial “elevator pitch.” At these events you need to tell others the specific position you are seeking and what skills and experience you bring to that position that another company needs. End with what you would like from them, such as a referral, a meeting to discuss in more detail, or to get some help on some aspect of your search. But be specific about what you want.
3. What your research must include
When you are conducting research, you are attempting to find information and connections you can use to accomplish an overall objective. If you only talk to one person, you only have one source and only that one source will be able to help you accomplish your overall goal. If you talk to several people, you will exponentially increase the sources that can positively affect your transition.
Thinking of employment networking as research also means that you must know what information you want that will enable you to achieve the overall goal you are attempting to achieve. When doing your research, you must know the following three things about your ultimate goal before you meet with anyone:
- What do you want? (What position are you seeking?) The person whose help you need must be able to quickly visualize in general terms the position you want.
- What are your top three skills? You must be able to state your strongest skills and capabilities that support the position you want.
- Be ready to tell two or three stories that demonstrate your top skills.
The results of your research works as follows with the people you meet:
- Most probably will not remember your name.
- Almost all will not remember most or any of your skills.
- All will remember your stories. When the person in your network hears that someone is looking for a person to do [insert one of your stories], the story will trigger their memory of a conversation they had with you that you had done something similar. They will then contact you.
Your research (employment networking) will have different objectives for every person in your network and will probably be different even when you meet the person more than once. The point is that you need to have a purpose in mind when you ask someone to meet with you. For example, your networking meetings can focus on gaining the person’s perspective on your career path, understanding why your skills and experience supports your career path, their perspectives on the position because they know something about it, or connecting you with someone else they know that might be able to help you to facilitate your transition.
How many people should you contact? I have heard some experts at networking refer to networking for employment as “50 cups of coffee” as that is how many people you need in your network for you to accomplish your ultimate goal.
Keeping track of who you talk to and when you should follow up with them and how you remember what you talked about last time can be challenging. To help you with this critical task, Use the Contact Sheet by downloading it here: Worksheet 12.1 – Contact Sheet.