Networking: The Real (Or)Deal!

Networking is sizzling hot.

It’s through networking that you’ll most likely land your next job. Networking helps you find leads in a new company or industry. Networking helps you get informational interviews, and lets you tap into the hidden job market.

And now there’s online networking. Social and business networking sites galore. For those of you who’re always dragging your feet to in-person networking events; a true blessing!

Yet not everyone’s response to online networking is “You had me at hallo!”

Typically, I’ll hear people say:

“It takes too much time.”

“I don’t know what to do or say.”

“I reached out to my network and nothing happened.”

In this part 1 in a series on networking I’ll explain some common networking mistakes to avoid and what to do instead. And because it’s easier to demonstrate this using real examples, I’ll pick one of my personal networking-gone-wrong scenarios to help you see what happened and how to do it differently.

Here’s such an example..

A little while ago, I received an email from someone I didn’t know, but whose name sounded vaguely familiar. (As it turned out, the person didn’t know me either and I later realized that the reason her name rang a bell with me was because her last name is identical to that of someone I do know.)

The email she sent was clearly a mass email. She had correctly sent it to herself and bcc’d it to everyone else so none of the email addresses were showing.

Networking Tip #1: Make sure you use the bcc feature when mass emailing.

You don’t want to start off losing half of your own network because they’re mad at you. Most people don’t like having their email addresses be up for grabs like that.

So far so good.

She talked about how she’d been working in a new interim job, how she’d collaborated with many of us in the past and that she was now looking for yet another job more in line with her skills.

She concluded her email by offering her help in providing us with leads or contacts.

Very nice.

First, let’s see what she did right.

She identified the industry she wanted to work in, in which capacity, and what kind of skills she wanted to use.

To make it more effective, she could’ve elaborated on what exactly her track record was in similar roles, using those same skills. She could’ve identified specific companies she was interested in.

This may have been common knowledge to her network, but if you’re trying to expand your reach, you want to always include specifics in case someone wants to forward your email to one of their contacts. No lengthy essays, but some particulars.

What mistake did she make?

She asked for a job.

Networking Tip #2: Don’t ask your network for a job! Ask for contacts or advice instead.

Just as she offered her network contacts, and not a job, she should’ve asked for leads from her network. It’s totally ok to let everyone know that you’re looking for a new job. But when it comes time to ask for favors, you’ll do much better asking for contacts at specific companies or industries or advice about entering a particular field.

Your new job is very rarely just one contact away. Most often, it’s a six-degrees-of-separation kind of (or)deal. Think about it: how many people do you know sitting around with jobs to hand out?

You may ask: “But what if someone really did know of a job opening that would be a great fit for me?”

In that rare event, they’d tell you!

The problem with directly asking for a job is that it puts a burden on people. It’s quite something to have to come up with! And if they don’t have one, the conversation usually ends there.

Except for with me.

Given that helping people with their careers is my job – and my passion, I felt compelled to reach out to her. Besides, I had a client who was applying in the same industry she was pursuing. Even though they could be perceived as “competitors,” I thought I’d check with my existing client to see if she had some names she no longer needed for a hot job lead.

So here’s what I emailed her – verbatim but with identifying data omitted to protect the innocent:

Hey (name),

Please forgive me – your name rings a bell somewhere, but what do we know each other from again?

Anyway, congrats on your new job, and I’d be happy to keep my eyes open for you. I just had a client apply for the exact type of jobs you’re after too, so if there are any contacts she’s willing to share, I’d be glad.

Good luck, and happy Holidays!

PS: Just curious: how did you find your current job?

Her response:

Hi Ilona,

I am actually looking for a job so if you can share any info I would be very grateful!

What went wrong? She sounds polite, no?

Let’s look a little closer and put it in perspective by rereading my email to her.

There seems to be an overall disconnect.

She is ignoring my questions and not making any attempt to establish some sort of rapport. My first question is the most important one – how we know each other. I’m reaching out to her as someone she wrote to but who – turned out – is a complete stranger to her. I’m trying to establish some sort of relationship with her there, but she ignores it. Instead, she goes straight to “the goods.” Even though she states she “would be very grateful,” she is falling short here.

Networking Tip #3: Establish rapport, build a relationship.

Don’t be the person – in real life or online – who goes around the room with a stack of business cards spewing their sales pitch or asking anyone who’ll listen whether they have a job available.

Her entire message seems awkward as she states the obvious: she’s looking for a job and is looking for help. That’s what I had just offered her; help with her job search.

I tried one more time: “How do we know each other again?”

She simply gives me the name of an organization and a person. Neither are familiar to me and I let her know this.

Her response:

“Someone along the way must have referred me to you. I am a xxx as xxx …. does that ring a bell??? Are you able to help me?”

This is where I left off the conversation. Partly because her lack of manners irked me and partly because we went into the busy holiday season at that time.

So what would’ve gotten me to actually take out some of my precious time and help a complete stranger by asking one of my clients for her willingness to share leads?

Connection and appreciation.

Networking Tip #4: Say “thank you!”

And I’m not that different from most people when it comes to this.

I read a blog post a while ago; the author described how he granted an informational interview to someone, later received an email from that person, but never heard the words “thank you.” He was ticked off.

In my situation, all it would’ve taken was for her to connect with me in her first response, and acknowledge that I was doing her a big favor, especially because we didn’t know each other.

Of course, even if you do know the person you’re approaching, make sure to thank them – overtly. Someone is putting their reputation on the line for you by reaching out into their network and either recommending you to someone else or by linking the two of you. Or, they’re taking time out of their busy day to help your career along.

The rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t even expect a response from a stranger you are asking a favor of. They don’t owe you anything. Some people are inundated with requests for leads and information. Humans tend to want to help others, so your odds of getting a favorable response are good. However, don’t sulk when you don’t hear back from a stranger you approached.

Another factor to keep in mind: as you don’t want your communication to be too long-winded, you want to watch out for those Blackberry and iPhone-inspired one-liners. There’s a time and place for everything; trying to establish a new connection needs more than a curt sentence.

If this seems very basic to you, that’s because it is! Yet – I had a hard time deciding which real-life example to use here as I have so many networking-scenarios-gone-wrong to pick from. And I hear the same stories from my friends and colleagues.

Stay tuned for the next part in this series on networking! Subscribe to my blog at the home page of my blog so you won’t miss an issue. We’ll also have at least one guest blogger – a networking expert – as part of this series. I promise you you’ll want to stay tuned – good stuff coming up!


  1. As a firm believer in networking (in an admittedly un-queen of networking way) and a recruiter, I totally agree with these observations. To get better at this, one question to ask yourself as a candidate: If someone were doing this to me, how would I feel?

    Great points and thanks for pointing them out!

    Comment by katherine moody — January 27, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

  2. Thanks Katherine!

    The small things are often overlooked but they can have a big effect on what happens next.

    Good tip too. It’s good to also realize that “networking karma” does not take place in another lifetime – it’s around the corner! : ))

    Comment by careerbranches — January 28, 2010 @ 7:18 am

  3. Reminds of an old Garth Brooks song – “I’ve Got Friends In Low Places”. I meet lots of people who need jobs, but nobody shares any connections although they expect something from you. Maybe you’re going to address this in Part 2, but another tip is ask “What can I do for you?” If you want something from somebody – especially a stranger – you should be prepared to reciprocate. Pay it forward is even better.

    Comment by ferd — January 28, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

  4. Hi Ferd – thanks for your comment.

    You’re right on and I will indeed cover this. : )

    Comment by careerbranches — January 29, 2010 @ 7:44 am

  5. Hi,
    A good read and points are driven well…

    Comment by Raju Jain — January 30, 2010 @ 6:11 am

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