I was quoted in this past Sunday’s Career Couch column about how fraught networking with those who are employed can be since there are so many people out of work these days.
You can read my brief comments on the subject, but of course there’s a lot more to say about how to get people’s attention while being respectful of their time and bandwidth constraints. And one of the best ways to do that is to be very specific about a) what you do best, and b) how you would like them to help you. (And that should not include asking if there are any openings at their company!)
Tackling the first part is the toughest, since it requires the most discipline. It means understanding your own personal brand: what makes you stand out among others with your skill-set and background. And that means that it is incumbent upon you to do the work of figuring all that out before you ask others to help.
I have said this before on these pages but it bears repeating. If you do not do this important work, you will be at best forgettable and at worst an irritant to those with whom you want to network. Not a great way to start a relationship!
Now, I am not saying it’s bad to contact a friend of a friend to ask for some advice about entering a new field. But again, your approach should be very specific in terms of what you are trying to learn and how they can help you. And if they do, be sure to follow up with them to let them know your outcome. It is very gratifying to someone who has been helpful to know where you’ve landed and to feel they’ve had a hand in that process.
Once you’ve got your brand message down, create a brief, clear elevator speech that provides enough detail that people understand what you do but aren’t overwhelmed. Then ask for what you need. And before you do, you should do a bit of research about what they do so you can figure out how you might be helpful to them. Don’t forget that networking that really works is a two-way street.