Take the red pill.
In fact, take it now before you really need it. That’s the lesson I’ve learned about networking.
In The Matrix, our hero is given a choice: take a blue pill and continue on with his life or take the red pill and see life as it really is. Of course, he takes the red pill (wouldn’t be much of a movie if he didn’t), the veil is lifted and he becomes aware of things that were always there but never seen.
Lately I’ve begun to build on my own network of friends and professional colleagues, coaxing it to take form, and develop. Actually, I’m helping it grow. The network was always there; I just never saw it. Then I took the red pill.
It was April 2006 when I was first asked to join a friend’s network through LinkedIn. Sounded like fun and a good way to stay in touch with people. But I rarely looked at it. The next request came in October 2007. I was flattered someone would ask me to join a network and, yeah, I felt hip.
But it wasn’t until this past February that I began to build my network in earnest. I had to; my role had been eliminated and along with so many others folks I was in the market for a new position.
As so many at Paladin attest, you’ve got to get out and network. This may seem rather obvious but it isn’t something all of us do when we’re employed. Of course, some roles – from sales to marketing to politics – require networking and maintaining relationships to achieve their goals. Networking within the organization was key to my last role.
Many job descriptions, however, do not ask you to stay in touch with people who don’t directly affect you or your work.
Because so many people are new to this networking gig, it seemed like a good idea to ask some friends from my network what they have learned along the way. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is road tested:
- Get out of the house – My friend Buzz put it as a simple, Nike-esque rule: “You just gotta be out there! Go out and go to things anytime you can.”
It’s okay, everybody’s doing it. And by “it,” I mean looking for work. Here’s the yin and the yang of it: We all know that this isn’t the best time in the history of humankind to be looking for work. On the other hand, the stigma of being out of work isn’t what it used to be, not when so many people are in the same position. There’s no shame in being unemployed but somehow it seems a little easier to say “I’m in transition” when the headlines are always talking about yet another round of lay offs. Just ask all of those former headline writers.
- Don’t be so shy – Of course, once you’re out of the house you’ve got to meet people. “People want to help,” as my friend Katherine put it, but don’t make it difficult for them. Give them your personal marketing plan or your newly updated resume to review. Suggest meeting for coffee so there’s an understanding that the meeting doesn’t have to last for hours. (And note that just because you say “Let’s meet for coffee” doesn’t mean you need to drink coffee at every meeting – especially if you have several lined up in one day. Trust me on this one.)
Job seekers and their friends might want to read this article in The New York Times that provides some suggestions for how to give and receive help. “The most important corollary to this rule,” Katherine points out, “is to thank people for their time and respect their schedules.”
- Be prepared – It’s not just for Boy Scouts anymore. “Never show up unprepared even for a quick networking meeting,” said Katherine. “You have to do your research in advance, or you waste people’s time.” This means knowing about your contact’s business and providing something for them to use (which can be as simple as meaningful article referrals, for example, suggests Leslie).
- Back to basics – It’s all about the prompt follow-up and the personalized, hand-written thank you notes. Making sure to write down unique reminder information on business cards. (“No,” says Leslie, “you won’t remember who all those folks are when you’re sitting in front of your computer doing the follow-up.”)
- Don’t just do something, stand there – “A lot of people don’t know how to listen,” says Buzz. It’s not that you just sit back and watch the show. “If you ask somebody for help, shut up and listen! Don’t ask for advice and then overwhelm someone with your expertise!”
Here’s a surprise: You’ve already started. As I mentioned earlier, my network was always there. Sure, it was a little fallow and needed some tending and weeding. But at the risk of taking this gardening metaphor too far, let’s just say you’ve bought the land already; employed or not, you need to start tilling the soil.
At a meeting of job seekers I attended, one participant put the benefits of networking this way: “I’ve lived in Chicago for 20 years. Now it seems like a small town.”
Take the red pill.
Contributed by: Frank McGee
Business writer, trainer, coach