By Liz Ryan
In the job-search process, a very important concept is the principle of 'conversion.' No one ever got offered a job just by sending a resume to an employer. If they did, they'd be nervous about the company!
The point of sending a resume to an employer is to convert the mild-or-strong interest on the employer's part (while reading your resume and cover letter) into an invitation for a job interview.The point of a job interview, of course, is to convert the employer's growing interest into a second interview or a job offer.
Conversion is an important principle in job-search networking, too. No one ever said to a new acquaintance at a networking event, "You know, I'm between jobs, and I'm looking for a marketing role" only to be told "I'd love to hire you! Can you start tomorrow?"
Networking won't get you a job offer on the spot, but it may open the door to a fruitful conversation later on. If you begin to think of your job-search networking as a seed-planting exercise, you'll notice that in our vegetable gardens and flower beds, not all seeds bear fruit.
You will start far more networking conversations during your job search than you will have job interviews. If you plan to talk to ten or twenty new (and old) networking associates for every job interview you get, you'll have a realistic sense of how networking typically translates into later steps in the job-search process.
This concept of conversion is important for job-search networkers because, if you view every networking conversation or email interaction as a means to a specific end - namely, as a great way to get your resume into the hands of Person X at Company Y or to schedule a job interview - you'll hurt your seed-planting efforts in a big way.
Think of it this way: if you planted a begonia seed in the ground, poured three months' worth of fertilizer on it and drowned it with water, you'd most likely kill it.
Networking works in much the same way. All you want from a conversation with a new acquaintance is to create a tiny seedling of a relationship. You can kill the seedling by pushing it to grow too fast. Here's an example.
"Hi, my name is Jane. What's yours?"
"Oh, I'm Carlo. I'm job-hunting, specifically for a Logistics Management position. I'm focusing on high-tech and pharma companies. Do you have any ideas or leads for me?"
"Gosh, no, sorry, Carlo - but best of luck to you."
Poor Jane was really set up in that conversation. She expected to enter into a pleasant three-to-ten-minute exchange, and found herself hit up for job-search advice and contacts in the first fifteen seconds. That's too much weight to put on a barely-there relationship.
It's hard for job-seekers to remember and to do, but it's critical to take your job-search networking slowly. Start by talking mostly about the other person - the one you're meeting. It's much more pleasant to be asked about yourself than to hear someone else's pre-rehearsed spiel, especially when a request for help is tagged onto the end of it.
Your goal in this first conversation is to connect with Jane on a level other than "how Jane can help me." That's the point of job-search networking: to get people on your side - not because they're blown away by your credentials, but because they like you.
Now let's say you and Jane have spent ten minutes learning about one another. You know about Jane's professional history and that she hails from Boston and which team she rooted for in the Super Bowl. You've shared with her that you're from Tennessee originally and have roots in Italy and have a long history in Operations and Logistics. Now Jane has something to grab onto, as it were. "Say Carlo," she says, "I don't know if this will help, but have you spoken to Gus Jones at the Manufacturing Excellence Center at State U?" Gosh no, you say, I wasn't aware of the Center or of Gus. "Well," says Jane, "I'd be happy to make an introduction."
So Jane makes an introduction – this is a great thing. You didn't ask for an introduction – that's even better! The point of good job-search networking is to create relationships that will flower in a million ways – taking into account that lots of your seeds will wither and die, too, in accordance with the laws of nature. The good news is that some of the seedlings that flower can be incredibly useful in getting you into your next job.
But you have to let nature take its course. You can't overburden a young networking conversation or a new relationship, as urgent as your job-search energy may be. Plant lots of seeds and let them flourish. And remember, people don't make job-lead referrals because they're dazzled by your resume – far from it. They do it because they want to help YOU. Don't kill the bud – give it time to grow.
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.