By Liz Ryan
A job seeker sent Liz this question, and she answers it in this column.
I'm on a job hunt for a Marketing job, and I've been happy that many of my friends and colleagues have made introductions for me.
So, I go and meet these new people for lunch or brunch or coffee, and I tell them about my job history and about my current job search. They listen politely and the conversation ends.
Although I'm sure there are jobs in their employers (mostly large companies), I haven't yet had one of these friends-of-friends hand in my resume to HR, or make another introduction in the company for me. I'm hitting a brick wall. What am I doing wrong?
It sounds as though you're networking with a goal in mind - the goal that each new person you meet is a conduit to your ultimate (new-job) pot of gold. That philosophy is very easy for your new acquaintances to pick up on.
Most people don't love to feel that they're taking time out of their day simply to serve as the means to an end for a person they don't know.
A very good question that may be playing over and over in each coffee-partner's head is "Why should I introduce this person to our HR manager?" Their thinking is probably going something like this:
This person, Margie, is a friend of my friend Jane. Well, Jane is awesome and everything, but I've got three actual friends of mine who are also job-hunting. I know them and can recommend them. Why would I jump into action and pass along this Margie's resume, since I don't know her from Adam and since it's clear that the only reason she's meeting me today is to enroll me in her job-search army?"
Sorry if that sounds harsh, Margie, but we can't network without keeping authentic, typical, interpersonal relationships in mind. It feels reasonable to you to ask a relative stranger to make an introduction into his employer for you, but it often feels like an imposition to the person being asked.
Imagine how many times that employed person has been hit up for introductions to HR folks and hiring managers, in the course of his employment at that firm! There is a better way to network and to cultivate relationships that can both help your new acquaintance and widen your circles (of contacts, and influence). Here's how to do it.
The next time you meet a friend-of-a-friend for lunch, don't rattle off your career history and job search specifics. Rather, interview the person. Treat the coffee date as a get-to-know-you and consulting-type interview:
Why must your job search be the topical focus for the meeting? No reason at all. Networking is best when it's focused on the other person, and not on you.
Now, let's say you've established a great early-stage rapport and level of trust during your conversation. Dig into the issues your new friend has on his plate. I'd be surprised if you don't have sage advice about something he's struggling with at the office right now.
Give that advice right there, at the table, for free - that's what networking is all about. If you do that, you'll see that the conversation becomes much more interesting, and so do you - to your new pal.
You're more impressive and more connected to your fellow networker when you show him that you can listen carefully and suggest dead-on solutions to his problems. Suddenly, you're someone he's glad to know - not a living, breathing obligation that he's bound to fulfill for his old friend Jane.
Here's a side benefit to the "networking like a consultant" approach. As your new friend heads back to his office and thinks about your discussion, you may get a phone call. "Say Margie, would you by chance be free to take on some contract work for our department? I love your idea for an interactive catalog." Networking like a consultant can lead to (surprise!) consulting work.
That's not a bad thing to fund your life during your job search, and of course, indispensable consultants get hired on as full-time employees all the time. Give up the me-first networking, and see what wonderful things can result.
Give up the me-first networking, and see what wonderful things can result.
Liz Ryan is Job-Hunt's Networking Contributor. Liz is a former Fortune 500 VP and 25-year veteran of corporate human resources departments. In addition, Liz is the author of Happy About Online Networking and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the 21st century workplace. Find Liz on LinkedIn and on Google+.