Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Are You Too Shy To Network?

My friend Patricia is probably the only person I would call a natural networker. Her worldly possessions have been in storage for most of the last 10 years as she goes where her heart tells her to (always beautiful places: Hawaii; Aspen; Naples, FL; San Diego; hey! Why not?). Jobs and projects fall into her lap no matter where she goes (and right now she’s in Austria after having spent a couple of weeks in Spain). She always has friends to stay with or a house to borrow. I would say she’s female version of Tim Ferris. But she’s her own self. And she makes her way in the world through relationships she builds along the way.

You ever have one of those right-words-at-the-right-time moments that blasts all your illusions away? Patricia gave me the right words at the right time and showed me the way to think about networking. It was a few years ago while she was visiting me on Cape Cod. I was feeling rudderless, pitiful, unnecessary, unwanted, all those un’s that make it such a drag to get up in the morning. Patricia and I were sitting in the livingroom wrapped in blankets and drinking coffee (well, she was drinking herbal tea, of course). I was saying that I just couldn’t bring myself to knocking on Cape Cod businesses begging for a job. And she gently said this:

“It’s not about what you need, it’s about what you can contribute.”



I’d been thinking about networking all wrong! It wasn’t about what a pitiful needy, loser, user I was. It was about letting the world know that I was here to help. Patricia certainly isn’t a needy, loser, user. She moves through the world like a queen (in a good way), and people take their cue from her – treating her accordingly. And she benefits a lot of lives as she goes. She may not have a permanent address (other than her Naples PO box). But she has real friends who love her, and she earns an honest living (thanks to laptops and cell phones), growing spiritually, emotionally and professionally along the way.

You may not want to live the life that Patricia has (although, for me, every time she breezes through Santa Fe, where I live right now, ever fiber of my being screams ROAD TRIP!). And you may not have the flexibility of treating the entire planet as your own personal marketplace.

But then again, maybe you do. At the very least the marketplace that you most naturally belong to needs you! But it may not know you’re there. If your resistance to networking is keeping you shy, I don’t blame you. So maybe the thing to do is examine your beliefs around networking. And maybe change your mind just a little.

Networking is a waste of time. It could be, depending on what you expect from your networking activities. If you want a job right this very minute (of course you do, just bear with me here for a minute), you’re probably going to think that networking activities are a waste of time because what are the chances that any given networking encounter will result in a job offer? To be honest – practically zero.

Yes, I get that you need a job – right this very minute. And networking will eventually bring you that job. But it’s a cumulative effect kind of thing. One person leads to another who leads to another who leads to five others. As my coauthor for Unlock the Hidden Job Market, Duncan Mathison, says: Networking is about planting seeds. Lots and lots of them. Some will sprout. But the more networking you do, the more of those seedlings will sprout. And some – not to drive a metaphor in the ground or anything – will bear fruit.

Still not convinced? What are the chances that staying at home will result in a job offer? Guaranteed: Zeeee-roe.

Most of the people I meet at networking events are people who are out of work themselves. That's probably true. Those networking events are the worst. They suck the life right out of you. They waste your time. And feed your growing sense of despair and overwhelm. So. Stop going to them.

Networking is not about going to networking events. It’s meeting people one-on-one, showing sincere interest in what they do, your shared industry or profession, your community, future trends, ideas, etc.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t network with other people who are out of jobs. But still make those one-on-one events, high-quality conversations where both of you end up with a growing list of ideas, connections, phone numbers, companies, introductions.

People don’t want to meet me. How do you know? Somewhere someone needs you. And that will only happen if you get the heck out of the house.

Just because you don’t have a job, that doesn’t mean you don’t have value and that you have nothing to contribute. People need you. To use Patricia’s philosophy: Get out and find out who they are. Under other conditions would you let negative self-talk prevent you from lending a hand where your unique strengths and gifts can really make life easier for someone? Of course not. So why let the inner gremlins have the power now?

People only want to hire to people who already have jobs. That’s a myth. If you’re unemployed right now, you actually have some advantages working for you. You’re available now. You’re not coming in with that entitled “what can you do for me” attitude. You won’t be taking their offer back to your current boss to try to snag a sweeter offer. Everyone knows that really great talent is on the loose right now because of the massive trend of lay-offs. The fact that you’re between jobs right now is not a black mark on your record. It’s just one of those things.

There’s no point in starting now, since the holidays are around the corner. Wrong. This is absolutely a terrific time to look for a job. Budgets are being formulated for Q1. So while you might not start until January 1, you’d be making great use of your holidays by networking your brains out. And just think, if everyone else thinks that there’s no point in job hunting right now, you are out there with very little competition.

For a great article on this subject, check out: T’is The Season To Follow the Money.

I look like hell. That might be true. If you’ve been stuck at home all day, not having seen the business end of a razor in weeks, it might be time to put on your go-to-meetin’ clothes (assuming they still fit) and see if your car will start.

Not judging here. In recent months I’ve been stuck at home writing books. Yoga pants and t-shirts have been my friends. My business clothes have been on the floor, serving as bedding for the cats. And just yesterday I spotted a coyote sauntering past my windows. And, while I was admiring its glossy coat and bushy tail, the thought came to me that it is better groomed that I am. I picked up the phone and made an appointment. For tomorrow. Can’t wait.

If you look like hell, you know what to do. You probably won’t look like Heidi Klum, once you’ve spruced up. But you won’t look like Tom Hanks in Castaway either.

People will know that I’m only networking because I need a job. So what? You’re not the only one looking for a job. The question is: are you the person they’re looking for? It’s up to you how they’ll regard you. They’ll take their cues from you. If you act ashamed or frustrated, they’ll pick up shame and frustration and treat you like you have a contagious disease. Figure out what it will take to behave with confidence, calm and professionalism. And do that.

Focus your conversation not on what you need but on what they need, what they think, who they might introduce you to, who you might introduce them to, etc. Remember: It’s about contribution, not need.

I’ve already done everything I can think of to get my resume into circulation. No you haven’t. Networking is not about bugging your family, friends, the Rotor Rooter man. A reader actually wrote to me saying that she gave her resume to her mail carrier.

Networking is about expanding your circles of contacts, acquaintances, colleagues. It’s about making lists of people and their phone numbers. Then picking up the phone and calling those folks. It’s difficult, I know, especially for people who don’t enjoy calling strangers. But remember, you’re calling colleagues and peers…people you have something or someone in common with.

These are people you might be able to help.

And that’s what it’s all about.

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