While no easy answers or miracle solutions exist for tough economic times, a recession economy creates a "networking" job market and certainly empowers individuals to take hold of their own career management. Employment opportunities arise out of our network of relationships, not from plentiful job postings and hiring-hungry corporations.
That has been the norm for most senior management who have found their positions and advanced their careers through colleagues’ recommendations or from search consultants. Consultant searches are now more circumscribed and careful, often taking months longer to find the right candidate, and positions are not as plentiful as companies are not expanding and hiring at the rate of previous times.
Networking is not Lead Generation
Unfortunately, for executives new to networking, lead generation is mistaken for networking. They use up valuable contacts asking for direct leads to job openings, rather than growing those immediate contacts into a greater network. Not knowing how to grow those relationships into a larger network of connections comes into play as well. Many senior level job seekers are uncomfortable with the process of making new contacts. Some perceive themselves to be empty-handed and asking for something. Others leave a negative impression during a networking coffee that they use for the sole purpose of finding job leads within their contact's company.
Connections are difficult to initiate and impossible to sustain when our motivation is getting rather than offering. Networking is a relationship building process that grows connections into a wealth of shared resources and opportunities, but only succeeds when approached from a perspective of quid pro quo. Powerful, successful networking occurs when our perspective and words change focus from what we want, to what we can offer. This is an attitudinal shift as well to view the process of networking as one of making and keeping connections not for this position but for a career lifetime.
When we consider the wants and needs of our contacts, then unforeseen opportunities appear to us. We can do this by approaching networking with no expectations other than to make connections and build relationships, and by sincerely offering our time, information and resources. We are limited only by our inability to think outside the "get a job box" to find creative, memorable, useful ways to reciprocate and show appreciation.
Beginner’s Networking in Six
- Build the network before you need it. Frankly it is too late to join Linkedin, reach out to long lost colleagues and finally scan into Outlook all those business cards you have stashed away in your desk drawer. A network is like a coral reef: fragile, taking years to build and a vast eco-system of interconnections. Cultivate your network with a long term view, not for short-term gain.
- Curb your sense of urgency. Create a targeted networking plan. Too often professionals approach their network with a "shoot, ready, aim" attitude. The minute they decide to job search they contact their immediate circles of connections to let them know the news and ask for help. This effort lacks in well-focused tactics which results in an immediate flush of effort and little results in an actual new position.
- A stale brand colors your network’s perspective. If your key connections still view you from the title, level, and responsibilities of job you held 12 years ago, then your branding message and value proposition is ineffective. You want your connections to provide support, assistance and help appropriately to who you are now not who you were.
- The professional who dies with the biggest network wins. Leverage your connections to grow your network through introductions. It is far too simple to go after what appears to be the low hanging fruit of immediate job possibilities. If they don’t come to fruition, the path to new contacts may also be closed. The goal should always be to grow the network in terms of numbers of people and extension into new sectors.
- Like a garden, a network requires ongoing, consistent attention over time to harvest the rewards. Communication and reciprocity are the fertilizer and water of a network. Keeping in touch is a given. Technology tools enable us to maintain our connections and stay in touch with colleagues using Twitter, blogs and social networks.
- Pay it forward. You may think all of this advice is irrelevant to you at the moment. You have a large established network to whom you have delivered a well-crafted branded message of your thought leadership and you aren’t "in play." Well then it’s your turn to help out other professionals in less fortunate circumstances. Open doors and provide access to your network to help others trying to grow theirs.
Certainly there are very sophisticated techniques and approaches to all of the above. Detailed tactics were not described. The small steps must be taken first, otherwise there is no point to elaboration. When a professional has reached the 500 connection threshold on Linkedin and several hundred reading their blog postings daily then networking goals can be feasibly set and acted on as the numbers have reached a critical mass to actually produce results.