Networking is the most effective way to get the job you want, to progress in the career of your dreams, and to maintain your prime position. Most people think of networking as actively seeking out people who are relevant to their current objectives. This should not be your only target population. Rather, consider a 2×2 matrix (calling all consultants!):
|Willing to talk to you||Relevant to your goals|
People focus on “relevant” people who are “willing” to talk (quadrant I). People also target “relevant, unwilling” people (quadrant III) and work at getting them into quadrant I. However, most people forget about those who might not seem “relevant”, but are “willing” (quadrant II). These people are important because they may be more relevant than you initially think (e.g., they may know some “relevant” people). Therefore, this month’s exercise is to focus on people who are accessible to you, but who may not be obvious networking targets.
Family and friends are examples of “willing”, often quadrant II people. But every group to which you have ever belonged is a potential source for quadrant II. Make a list of these groups from past to present:
Race/ ethnic community
Social service group
Special interest and hobbies (e.g., music school, sports teams)
Remember that some groups are very tight-knit and willing to help even a stranger from the same group. For example, one candidate moved from a PhD in biology to a venture capital job, not by networking exclusively with the VC crowd, but by networking extensively with other PhDs in biology who transitioned outside that field. These fellow PhDs knew what this candidate was going through and wanted to help one of their own. One of these PhDs had transitioned into banking. He had some VC contacts, and the rest is history. If this candidate had focused only on who was “relevant”, he may have missed this important contact.
Networking is critical to the jobseeker. Most jobs are filled via referrals, not ads. Getting inside is especially important in a slow economy, when companies cut recruiting costs. Add to this the competitive labor pool and you may be tempted to network too aggressively. You think it shows persistence, ambition, and moxy. However, networking the wrong way can just be annoying. Here are some tips to avoid the annoying trap:
MAKE A REASONABLE CASE FOR WHY YOU ARE NETWORKING. I recruited for a firm that only placed senior strategy consultants. We received countless inquiries from people with no background or interest in consulting. Do your homework, and only approach relevant targets.
IF YOU APPROACH SOMEONE REPEATEDLY, SAY SOMETHING DIFFERENT EACH TIME. Your first approach might be an informational interview. Your second approach might be a personalized thank you for the interview. Your third approach might be an interesting insight about what you discussed. Each time, new information is shared. No approach should just be to check on job openings.
USE THE INFORMATION YOU ARE COLLECTING. In the above example, information gleaned from the first interview is useful at least two more times – for the thank you and for a future insight. It is also useful when networking with other people in the field. You appear knowledgeable about the industry when you share insights from one insider with others.
REMEMBER TO MAINTAIN THE NETWORK. When your search is over, circle back to the people who helped you along the way. Get into the habit of not only calling people for help, but of building genuine relationships.
A Fortune magazine article for a past downturn highlighted the changing scope of layoffs – affecting white-collar, as well as blue-collar; recent graduates, as well as experienced. The downturn is even hitting historically stable jobs, such as banking and consulting. In these precarious times, one might wonder, “Can anyone win in this problematic labor market?”
An indiscriminate market that hits even the safest careers highlights an important and often overlooked point about the choices we make. There is no 100% job security. Every choice carries a risk. If you make a career choice just to mitigate your risk, you could experience a potentially bigger letdown. Let’s say you choose that consulting job, even though your dream is publishing. Because consulting is stable. Because publishing doesn’t pay well. If you’re one of a significant number of recent graduates who got laid off when several big-name firms downsized, you’ve lost out twice: 1) you’ve lost your job; and 2) you’ve compromised your dream for what turns out to be a false sense of security.
A better approach would be to acknowledge that all careers carry potential risks and therefore to take the risk for something you truly want. This approach is a win-win solution. If things work out, you have your dream career. If not, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did your best for what you love. Either way, you’ll have a fabulous time on your journey.
There are special considerations when you are unemployed for more than six months. Your skills and expertise are getting stale. Motivation is waning. Unemployment benefits are running out. Here are some survival tips:
IF YOU FEEL YOU’VE BEEN OUT TOO LONG, remember that, in this difficult market, many qualified candidates share your predicament. Employers will not hold this against you, if you come to interviews with fresh ideas. To keep your knowledge fresh, read trade journals, attend conferences, and keep in touch with your employed peers.
IF YOU THINK YOU’RE NO LONGER COMPETITIVE, improve your skills – whether specific to your job or in general (e.g., computers, marketing, communication skills). Look at libraries, community centers or colleges for free or subsidized classes. Teach yourself through books or online resources.
IF YOU’RE TIRED OF LOOKING, find different ways to keep motivated. Network with jobseekers to share support and ideas. Keep a journal of your progress. Treat yourself after meeting certain targets (e.g., after making five new contacts).
IF YOU’RE LOW ON CASH, keep your financial goals separate from your career goals. While it would be ideal to make money by finding your next full-time job, you don’t want to take whatever comes along just because you need the money. In the immediate term, your financial and career needs are separate. Some ways to make cash: freelancing, temping, selling, babysitting, housecleaning….No job is insignificant if it keeps you in the search long enough to land that next job.
To get a better work/life balance, you can try bringing more personal life into work. Some actual examples of this trend are casual dress at the office, telecommuting and flextime, and bringing pets to work. On the other hand, you can introduce business techniques into your personal life – e.g., scheduling your social calendar in your Palm Pilot, conducting family “meetings”. My favorite technique is to apply the 80/20 rule, or Pareto’s Principle, to both work and life.
The 80/20 rule refers to the idea that in many cases 80% of the value (sometimes measured as income, revenue, or profits) is created by the top 20% of the population. Thus, a firm with five customers that generates $5 MM in revenues would fall under the 80/20 rule, if the top customer generated $4 MM in revenues (or 80%), while the other four customers combined accounted for 20%. If this business understands the 80/20 rule, it will not treat all its customers the same because of the disproportionately higher value of its top customer.
What is true in business is true in life. We have many different customers – people/ responsibilities vying for our time and energy. Our customers might be our spouse, our kids, our employer, our community, our hobby, etc. Each customer brings us value, not necessarily in dollars and cents, but if our bottom line is overall quality of life, then each customer contributes to our bottom line in some way. Yet, we don’t always give the bulk of our time and energy to our top 20%. For example, if you think that family and career are your top 20%, and yet you spend a lot of time and energy on social events, committees, hobbies, and many other things, you may not be recognizing Pareto’s Principle. Instead of spreading a lot of time and energy in disparate places, try to focus on the few things that are most valuable to you. When you are faced with an overwhelming TO DO list, remind yourself of 80/20. Apply your energy to the “20” to get yourself “80%” of the way to fulfilled.