It never fails: When I mention that networking is the most effective way to look for work, my workshop attendees' faces go blank. Their eyes are suddenly glued to the tables. Their bodies slump back in their chairs.
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In other words: They don't like hearing what I have to say. But the fact remains that networking is the most effective way to find a job, and it's how you get referred for a job that isn't advertised.
So why do my workshop attendees see networking as a painful act? What's with the resistance?
Here are four common reasons why networking can be difficult, and what you can do about it:
1. You Don't Have a Network Yet
Most job seekers have one thing – and one thing only – on their minds: landing a job. Their finances are suffering and their states of mind are in shambles. There's no time to waste. They need to find a job now.
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This sense of urgency is only heightened when you need to develop an effective network immediately – a network you should have developed while you were working.
Unfortunately, many people don't think about networking when they're gainfully employed. They feel secure in their positions, or they consider it to be in bad taste; both conclusions are faulty.
What you should do: Tell yourself that it isn't too late. As we've heard many times, networking is all about building and maintaining relationships. To build relationships requires some give and take. You need to be patient, despite the urgency that is consuming you.
I tell my workshop attendees, "The next job you land, make sure you keep up with your networking – which means also letting people know about jobs that exist (unadvertised) at your company." Think not only of yourself, but also of others who are looking for work.
2. You're Outside Your Comfort Zone
Introverts are particularly prone to feeling uncomfortable during networking events. Many of these events consist of hoards of people huddled together in a library, church, or other free space. This environment can be hard on an introvert – but it also makes effective networking hard for everyone. To be effective when networking, you need relaxed conversations and some idle chitchat before you can deliver your elevator pitch.
What you should do: Develop a game plan. If you're introverted, don't expect to "work the room." Rather, plan to speak with a few people. Be sure to arrive with some questions for particular people, as well as a few talking points.
Put the people with whom you speak at ease. Don't jump into your elevator speech immediately. You'll probably flub it. Instead, talk about current events, the weather, what brought the person there, etc.
3. You Feel Like You Have to Attend Organized Events
I've always insisted that there is no single environment that's best for networking. Networking can happen everywhere, whether you're at a family gathering, a sporting event, a summer BBQ, a religious meeting place, or pretty much anywhere else.
Networking is about building relationships, and many an opportunity to do so has arisen when least expected. Say you're watching your kid's soccer game and you overhear a woman talking about how she can't get good help in her Q.A. department. You're in Q.A. You politely introduce yourself and mention this bit of information. Before you know it, the woman is asking for your personal business card.
What you should do: See everywhere you go as an opportunity to network. Let me illustrate. Many years ago, my cousin Johnny attended a family gathering, at which he explained his situation and the type of work he was looking for. I considered this incredibly tacky.
But then, five years later there, was an IT opening at the software company for which I worked. I remembered what Johnny said the day of the party and recommended him to our CFO. He was hired for the position.
4. You Expect Instant Gratification
I'll admit that going to networking events can be disheartening at times, especially if I don't leave with at least two or three quality contacts. But after feeling sorry for myself, I reason that next time will be better.
I remember running into a job seeker who attended a networking event we sponsored. I asked him if he found the event useful. His response was that he didn't get anything out of it. No one from his industry was there.
What you should do: Do not expect great things the first or second time you attend an event. Be patient. Also, learn how to tell people in an understandable way what you do and how you can help employers. This will help you find leads or obtain great advice sooner rather than later.
The job seeker I mentioned wasn't keeping an open mind. He should have been thinking of the bigger picture. For example, did anyone know someone at his target companies? Or better yet, how could he have helped someone? At the very least, he should have given it a couple more tries.
Networking can be uncomfortable and almost painful for some people, but it's something we must all do. The fact remains that networking accounts for roughly 70 percent of jobs landed by job seekers. It is the most successful way of gaining employment – even if it also feels like the most difficult one.
Just remember this sentiment: Anything worth having doesn't come easy.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.