Networking Primer II

What do you tell a job seeker doing everything right — and still not finding work?

I met with Tricia as part of a Seattle Times Career Makeover project and wrote the following summary of our conversation for the journalist writing the story.

Tricia and I met at a drafty coffee shop in Columbia City. She presents as a very well-put-together, accomplished marketing professional. Nothing about her indicates that she’s been out of work for two years.

Except for her long, long list of networking activities.

Before our meeting, I had asked her to compile a list of whom she’s talked to and where each conversation and contact led. The spreadsheet went on for pages, an overwhelming document of lunches and phone calls and coffees, of missed opportunites and close calls.

“I feel like I’ve exhausted my network,” she said. “How many times can I keep going back to the well?”

I completely agreed.

I asked her about her LinkedIn network. She has had an illustrious career to date and I was surprised to see that she only had 220 connections. She explained that they were mostly people she has worked with recently. She told me she felt a little uncomfortable reaching back in time to people whom she hadn’t worked with – or contacted – in years.

Ahh, now we were getting somewhere.  She needed to build a new network, a network comprised of old – and brand new – connections.

We’d give her current network a rest.

I tasked her with reaching out to people she worked with early on in her career, particularly at her first big job at Coca Cola. She had mentors and coworkers she loved and respected there; I expect they will be delighted to hear from her again, and happy to connect her to people who might be helpful in terms of her job search.

I shared my LinkedIn rule of thumb: send someone an invitation to connect if they are likely to know your name and have a positive association with it.  “What’s the worst that can happen if you reach out to them?” I asked. “The worst thing that can happen is that you won’t hear from them. That’s a fairly low pain rejection.”

I challenged her to grow her LinkedIn connections by an order of magnitude – a bit of a stretch goal to get her attention!

But building a new network from old contacts is just the beginning. She needs to expand the circles of acquaintances that could be helpful to her job search, and doing that will require old fashioned, face-to-face networking.

We talked about what to say to someone whom you don’t know at a networking event. I asked her what would be in interesting question to ask someone she just met. Something real. Something she’d be genuinely interested in.

Without a second’s hesitation, she replied: “I want to know: ‘How can I help you? How can we work together?’”  (I ran into another open-ended networking question I liked recently: “What are you working on?”)

She committed to building a script around that question, that desire to be collaborative and help one another. “Find one person whom you want to follow up with at each event,” I told her. “Just find one new friend.”

In a probably regrettable moment, she agreed to attend one networking event a week. “You never know what’s going to happen if you go,” I said. “You definitely know what’s going to happen if you don’t.”

Tricia also began thinking of her different social circles in terms of her professional network.

She volunteers and hikes with the Mountaineers – there are likely a lot of people there who might be helpful -– or know someone who could be. She’s done a lot of work on Etsy. She could tap into her LinkedIn groups. There are scores – hundreds? – of people in those different circles whom she could add to her new network.

And what’s the point of this big network of tenuous connections?

“Where do you want to work?” I asked her. She named several Northwest companies. “Whom do you know there?” I asked. “Of course you know people there – or you know people who know people there. Go find them in your network!”