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Networking Is Not a Dirty Word…It’s Relationship Building

networking2_imagesRecently, someone in my network sent an email asking if I could meet him for coffee. Prior to this email, the last time we communicated was about seven years ago when he was laid off and looking for work. Now he is in the same spot. This behaviour is not unusual. Many people do not feel the urge to touch base with their network until they are in need of help. They do not treat their network as a top priority, but leadership expert Harvey McKay advises that we should dig our well before we are thirsty. His book is aptly titled “Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty.”

One reason it is important to periodically touch base with your network is that you never know when and from where an opportunity may come. Second, employers are increasingly relying on their own employees to find new hires, so if you are in job search mode and is an active networker you will most likely be on someone’s radar for new opportunities.

As much as networking is an important task, it sometimes has a negative connotation. The term sometimes conjures up images of back-slapping, forced smiles, awkward conversations or brown-nosing, and because of these negative undertones, many people shy away from becoming actively engaged in the process. Scott Ginsberg, author of Hello, My Name is Scott describes networking as “…the development and maintenance of mutually valuable relationships. It’s not schmoozing; it’s not just handing out business cards, selling, marketing or small talk. Those activities are part of networking, but unfortunately, many people’s misunderstanding of the term causes them to network ineffectively.”

Networking is a long term strategy that involves work and takes time. Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International said that there’s a reason “networking is not called ‘net-sit’ or ‘net-eat’ but ‘net-work’.” Whether you are a job seeker or an entrepeneur, you need to create a networking plan and be prepared to invest a lot of time in building and nurturing your network. Business consultant, Nikolai Tillisch, who has used LinkedIn to build his business, says, “To conduct business successfully, I had to invest time on the ground to understand and build relationships.”

Networking can lead to job opportunities. It is well known that more than 80% of job opportunities are found through networking. Why? It’s easier and cheaper, and relies on trust. Imagine someone in your network trusting you enough to recommend you for a job opportunity! Having said that, I am noticing a trend these days that some people are twinning their LinkedIn invitations with a request for help in finding a job. That’s not a good strategy if you would like to build mutually beneficial relationships. Get to know your contact and give them enough time to get to know you before asking for favours.

Networking is a two-way street. One of my LinkedIn contacts sent me a magazine article in which I was quoted. Soon after, he mailed me several copies of the magazine which was published in his city. Feeling honoured by this gesture, and without giving him advanced notice, I mailed him a copy of my book, No Canadian Experience, Eh? I told him that if he hadn’t sent the information to me I wouldn’t have remembered I was interviewed for the article. We began discussing the value of networking, and he said, “I had to be forced into this idea of networking. I had a stint as a trade diplomat and was exposed to some training, but I did not get the point, mainly because I used to be one of those stiff solicitor types, but I learned quickly. Now, I consider myself a connector (or people collector) – deciding that I like somebody, building a relationship based on mutual regard for work, and holding on to that relationship forever.”

Networking is still going to be awkward for many of us, but if viewed through the lens of relationship building, it’s easier to embrace and the rewards can be long lasting. So, in the spirit of networking, “How can I help you today?”

 

Social Media: The New Job Search Frontier

Recently I did some presentations and a webinar on social media for my clients and a couple of community organizations, including the Kiwanis Club of Brampton.  These presentations offered simple strategies to build a LinkedIn Profile, how job seekers can use social media to market themselves to employers, and how professionals and entrepreneurs can benefit from having an online presence.

Many people are nervous at the mere mention of social media. They are afraid people might misuse their information; they want to guard their privacy, or they are just plain overwhelmed with so many of these tools from which to choose. One webinar participant wrote me to say, “I am scared of a free service that takes my data to make money and promises not to share my information.” She then asked if I thought she was paranoid. Privacy is a legitimate concern, of course, especially since we know, or have heard of many online horror stories, but one does not have to become paranoid.

At one point, I was hesitant to use Facebook, for example. Although I have had an account since 2008, I did not start actively using it until 2010, when I began to see additional benefits other than getting updates from my nieces and nephews. So, social media is scary, and it might look like a time-waster sometimes, but is that enough not to test the waters? From a job seeker’s perspective, is it worth missing out on potential job opportunities, or connecting with a couple of influential decision makers? Wouldn’t it be nice to address someone by name at one of your target companies instead of “Dear Sir/Madam”?

There are many advantages to using social media. During a LinkedIn conference in Toronto last week, the keynoter said, “If you have hired more than 10 people through LinkedIn, stand.” Over 600 HR professionals and recruiters stood up. In other sessions, presenters spoke about how companies can build their employer brands on LinkedIn by reaching out and engaging potential employees through Career Hub Pages and Groups. The overall message from my perspective as a career coach is that job seekers need a LinkedIn presence, for starters.

I also learned that Canada is the 5th largest country on LinkedIn, and that IBM is one of the most active companies on LinkedIn, with over 280,000 employees and 650,000 followers. Want to join IBM? There are lots of people with whom you could connect!

Here’s a summary of some major social media tools:

  • LinkedIn – known as the number one social media tool for business, it has over 150 million members. Not only can profiles be created, but resumes can be uploaded, and by following Company Pages, one is able to keep track of new hires, promotions and the overall health of specific companies.
  • Twitter – a free micro-blogging platform that sends short messages using 140 characters. Recruiters, employers and HR professionals are quite active on Twitter and quite often use it to announce  job vacancies.
  • Facebook – permits businesses to establish a presence and allows people to “Like” and follow those businesses.
  • Pinterest – a content sharing service that allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to pinboards. At first glance, one may wonder how effective this is as a job search tool, and the jury is still out on this. However, if you are the creative/artistic type, you can certainly market yourself or your business with it, so, join Pinterest and ‘get ‘Pinspired’!
  •  Google+ – another content sharing service, with an added feature called ‘Hangouts’. It’s a new video service where one can hold meetings, arrange study sessions, family meetings, or social gatherings with up to 10 people. Some companies have already started to conduct interviews with Hangouts.
  • About.me – serves like a parking garage for your online presence. It is a personal page that points people to everything you do around the web. It can be useful as a link in an email instead of uploading your resume and your other documents.

I believe the new job search or business frontier is through social media, and job seekers and entrepreneurs need to leverage its use. None of us can afford to be left out, especially as online interactions are becoming as meaningful as in real life. Does this mean social media is the ‘be all’ of your job search or business? No! What it does is help you build relationships, engage in conversations, and demonstrate your expertise. This will (over time), lead to opportunities, value and profitability.

Still scared? It’s time to jump on the social media bandwagon. Experiment and see which ones resonate with you, because these tools have become major players in how we conduct a job search, how and where we do business, what we purchase, and who we connect with.

Comment below and let me know your thoughts.