An Advanced Lesson in Networking

Why it’s more crucial than you think and how to do it well.

Posted Mar 27, 2019

MaxPixels, Public Domain
Source: MaxPixels, Public Domain

I know, I know. You’re sick of hearing that you should network.

But unless you’re one of the small percentage of people who love networking or whose career is where you want it and it's likely to stay that way, you probably need to network more, whether online and/or in-person.

That’s true even if you’re not looking for a job: Networking can create a stable of connections who can clue you in on new best practices, ground-floor trends, shortcuts to advanced certifications, etc. But networking is particularly compelling for people looking for a good job.  Here’s why.

The lifespan of a job opening

A job opening is born when an employer would benefit from hiring someone like you but doesn't yet realize it. If at that point, you or a friend email, call, or even walk in to the employer, explain what you could do for the employer, unless legally required to, s/he may decide to forgo the hassle of a full-on search for an employee. You have the inside track.

The next step in a job’s lifespan is when an employer knows s/he needs to hire and posts the listing internally or asks a few friends and colleagues for a referral. If you or a friend email, call, or walk in at that point, you're still competing only against a small number of people.

Here’s the punch line: Usually, a job opening is openly advertised only when the employer is legally required to do so or if the job is so bad or requiring such rare skills that no insider or referred person fills the position. So, if in your job search, you respond only to openly advertised positions, you're not only competing against dozens if not hundreds of applicants, you're competing for jobs that on average aren't as good as the ones filled earlier in a job opening’s lifespan.

Finding on-target employers

How might you find on-target employers? Start with the one or two you know or that a colleague or friend mentions. Look them up on Linked in which usually lists related employers. Or Google the names of a couple of on-target organizations. That will often generate a list of such employers. Or look at the exhibitors list from the last relevant convention.

Doing it wrong; doing it right

Of course, even if you’re a master networker, querying employers who aren’t advertising a job will work only a small fraction of the time but will typically work often enough to land you a good job faster than people who rely on answering ads, headhunters, and a primped LinkedIn profile,  resume, and cover letter. But if you network the wrong way, you could be schmoozing until you’re in a nursing home and still not land a good job.

The wrong way is, as Detective Friday, in the old TV show Dragnet urged, “Just the facts.” Yes, you have to give the facts, that is, what you bring to the table, but if you give just the facts, you haven’t created the chemistry that’s often key to motivating an employer to hire you or even to offer advice as to where you should turn: to a particular employer, a training course you should take, conference you should attend, whatever.

An example of the wrong way to pitch yourself: “I have a marriage-and-family-therapist license and looking for a job. Might you need someone?”

That approach deserves an F because:

  • It’s sterile, pure fact. No chemistry created.
  • It doesn’t explain what makes you different, potentially of greater interest, than the zillions of other MFTs.
  • It prematurely asks for a job. Doing that is no wiser than, within five seconds of meeting a stranger, asking, “Would you like to go to bed with me?”

An example of a better way:

  • I just got my psychologist's license and am excited and, okay, a little nervous, about looking for my first job. I think I’d be particularly good at working with men with anger issues but, at this point, I recognize I may not be able to immediately get that precise job. Besides, I suspect I might be helpful to a wider range of people. My supervisors said I have a knack for intuiting what’s going on beneath the surface, providing a good space for clients to come up with their own solutions yet can, as needed, gently propose possible steps. I’m wondering if you might be willing to speak with me about whether I might be of value to you and your organization, or even just for some advice as to where I might turn?

That approach is far better because:

  • It’s human, showing some emotion without appearing like a basket case.
  • It explains what makes you different, including your preferred focus, while acknowledging that you’re open to other options.
  • Instead of asking for a job prematurely, it makes the reasonable ask: “Should we speak to see if and how I might help you or even just for some advice as to where I should turn?”

Of course, most such back-door inquiries won’t lead to a job but, when day is done, if you’ve done it assiduously, each time telling your true human story and what you bring to the table, you’ll likely get a good job and get it faster than does the typical job seeker.

The takeaway

Outside of the rarefied niche of people whose careers are in excellent stasis, whether or not you’re looking for a job, building networking into your life may be as important to your career success as getting more competent. . . alas..