Authors: Ellen Gordon Reeves
Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Self Help
“But I’m Scared of Networking!”
Imagine that a student from your hometown called or e-mailed and said, “Hi, you don’t know me, but I went to your high school. I met your mom and she said you might be willing to tell me about your experience at City College because I’m thinking of going there.” How would you react? I would hope you’d be willing to spend a little time in an e-mail or on the phone answering his questions and telling him about your experience. Networking doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.
Many people are shy about networking—or shy in general. But there’s no place for shyness in this game. Most people’s professional lives involve dealing with other people to some degree, so think of networking as training for the years to come. And realize that people are usually willing to help, if they’re approached in the right way: professionally, with plenty of leeway built in so it’s easy for them to say no if they’re unable to help you, for whatever reason. Don’t take it personally if you get turned down sometimes; people are busy and overcommitted, and if someone knows that he’s not likely to be much help to you, he would rather tell you that at the outset than waste your time.
People often feel that getting a job through a connection is somehow “cheating,” getting a free ride, or taking the easy way out. It’s good to work hard for your accomplishments. But successfully using your network is not the same as being handed a job. If someone does hand you a job, consider yourself lucky. Get over any feelings of guilt, fast—and get to work. If you really feel guilty, turn that guilt into action on behalf of others. Help other job-seekers you know; make yourself available to mentor newcomers. What you need to understand is that you’ll be expected to work plenty hard once you’re on the inside; getting a job is only half the battle. (More on how to keep that job in
Q. People are so busy. Why should they waste their time talking to me? I’m in no position to help them.
Is that how low an opinion you have of yourself? Might it not be interesting for someone to meet you and talk with you, to relive highlights of her career, and to share her insights and tips with someone truly receptive? People who don’t enjoy doing this will say no to your request. Let them. If they don’t want to talk to you, you don’t want to talk to them. Move on.
Q. I’ve always felt there was something slimy about networking. I don’t want to have to fake friendship or connection in order to get a job. That seems wrong to me.
“Networking” is only unseemly if done in an aggressive way with no regard for etiquette or respect for people’s time. I once had a small gathering at which a guest terrorized all my friends by aggressively hounding them for leads for her new business. She was intrusive, and they told me they felt imposed upon. Yes, parties are good places to meet people; but what she might have done was ask if she could contact them later on to ask for help and advice, not monopolize their time and interrogate them at a social event.
There’s a time and a place for networking. You must respect boundaries—those between social and professional spaces, or even those between religion and commerce. (While I do think that religious groups and leaders may yield networking leads, I would not suggest approaching clergy after a service; that would be highly inappropriate.) Be respectful of the other person’s time by making a phone call or in-person appointment during office hours.
Q. Isn’t networking the same thing as using people?
Exactly how are you “using” them? Part of being a professional, in my opinion, is sharing information about one’s chosen field. Not everyone adopts this mentality, but in my experience, many do.
Again, though, it all depends on your approach. If you couch your networking attempts in other guises, you
using someone. Be honest and forthright about the purpose for your call or e-mail. Once, a young intern who, shall we say, was not my favorite, simply refused to respect my boundaries and lack of interest. He would call periodically, pretending he just wanted to say hello. Eventually he would get around to the purpose of his call: Could I recommend him for this or that job, or did I know of any openings? His approach wasn’t genuine or direct.
Approach people politely, respect the possibility that they may not be available, thank them adequately, and offer to return the favor when you can, and no one will feel used. Sucking up to someone you don’t know or like because his father runs a company you’d like to work for
“using” someone. Don’t do it. If you really want to talk with his father, just be direct: “I have a favor to ask. I’m interested in telecommunications and would love the chance to speak with your father or someone in his company. Would you be willing to make the introduction?”
Q. I’m afraid that getting a job through connections will create an uncomfortable situation.
Many people share this fear. “Everyone will know I didn’t get the job on my own,” they say.
First of all, how do you think those other people got their jobs? Anyway, it’s all in how you handle it. Be up front, without flaunting your connections or volunteering too much information. Let’s say your family runs the business. Don’t pull rank or insider tricks if you want to be liked and respected. Just be professional. You don’t need to advertise how you got your job, but there’s no need to hide it—I’d like to think you wouldn’t have been hired if you couldn’t do the job. That’s when the most uncomfortable situations arise: when someone who isn’t really qualified for a position gets one through connections and then does a bad job. If a colleague is having to cover for you because you really can’t handle the work, that’s a problem.
If you reach out to a contact and don’t hear back within a week or two, phone the next week if you e-mailed the first time, or e-mail if you called—the person might be away. But if you don’t hear back after a second attempt, forget it and move on down your list.
If you do reach a contact who’s supplying you with a lead, be sure to ask for the lead’s current title, phone, and e-mail information; also find out exactly how they know each other so you don’t get it wrong and embarrass yourself. Then Google the person to find out as much as you can about him.
After you’ve done this, you’ll reach out in much the same way you contacted the original party, but the opening line of your call or e-mail will refer to the intermediary: “Hello, Mr. Versace. My aunt Susan Reed suggested I call when I told her I was about to graduate from Simon’s College and am exploring careers in fashion. Is this a good time to talk?”
Don’t forget to log all calls and e-mail. You might remember the first few conversations you have, but after that, I guarantee that you won’t be able to keep it all in your head. You need to know who referred you to whom, which e-mail/cover letter/résumé you sent, and when and how you thanked appropriate parties. Take good notes on all your conversations,
and log all new contacts you receive. You don’t want to do all this work only to forget or lose the information you gather.
FINDING A MENTOR
As you make your way through your job hunt, it’s helpful to have an official or unofficial mentor at your side.
A mentor is a more experienced person—usually someone who’s quite a bit older than you, though not necessarily so—who takes an interest in your path and tries to lend you some of his hard-won wisdom.
A good mentor is someone who knows more than you do and is willing to help. People often rely on mentors during their careers, but mentors can also be extremely helpful on the road to those careers.
A mentor-mentee relationship can be a close friendship or a more distant, professional relationship. You might have lunch or check in by phone or e-mail every few months, or you might have a couple of conversations at the beginning of your job search and then follow through with a thank-you at the end. A mentor might introduce you to key people or tell you about the inner workings of the industry you’re interested in; even on a one-shot basis, a mentor could review your résumé and cover letter from a hiring perspective.
Many colleges and professional associations have programs in place to match newcomers or recent graduates with mentors. If such a program is not available to you, see if you can create your own mentor-ship. Talk to people you respect who work in or around your field of choice; think about professionals you’ve met through classes, informational interviews, or internships.
Mentorship relationships don’t happen overnight, though, and you can’t just run up to a stranger and ask, “Will you mentor me?” Institutionalized programs may help jump-start these relationships, but in general they emerge organically.
THE PIECE OF PAPER THAT SAYS IT ALL
People think it’s hard to write a résumé, but it doesn’t have to be. First of all, there’s not that much to write. You have only one page to deal with. You can handle that. True, selecting what goes on that single page is extremely important, but the task is finite. I’ll give you the format, you fill in the specifics within the structure.
Putting together your first résumé is hard because it’s your first, but I promise you, it gets easier with time. Subsequent versions involve only refinement, reorganization, addition, and subtraction. Once you get the first one down, you’ll never have to face that blank page again.
Maybe it’s hard for you to write a résumé because selling yourself is not your style and runs counter to some cultural and societal norms. If you want a job, you’re going to have to get over that. You must learn to present yourself with confidence.
Writing a résumé may be hard because you think you have no experience. But I can guarantee you that if you’ve been alive for more than eighteen years, you have experience. You have skills. You may not know how to talk about them, but you have them.
Maybe the process seems difficult because you can’t imagine fitting all of your experience onto one page. Or not all of your experience has been positive. In fact, you were fired once. How do you deal with that on a résumé? Fortunately, there are easy answers to these questions. What’s more, you may even find the writing process interesting. You might discover patterns in the choices you’ve made, or finally come to see that you picked up some valuable skills from a job you didn’t really like.
How do you decide what goes on your résumé? First, look at a bunch of versions. See the models—good and bad—on pages 66–73 and read the résumés of friends who’ve successfully navigated the job search to get a feel for variations on the basic format.
Next, brainstorm a list of everything you’ve ever done: extracurricular activities, jobs, hobbies, volunteer work. Take that list and rewrite it in reverse chronological order (most recent first). This master document will be the basis of your résumé. The first question I ask people after they make their preliminary brainstorming lists is, What did you leave out? Consider whether someone else might have a different perspective on this activity—perhaps it entailed a skill you never realized you had. If you can’t remember what you’ve left off, try mapping out your schedule for a typical day or week to see how you really spend your time. If you find that you spend three afternoons a week in the garden, I’d say gardening is one of your “activities.” Do you volunteer off and on for a particular organization? Incorporate those things into your list.
Now for the résumé itself. Here’s all you need to put on the page: your name and contact information; your education, before or after your experience, depending on which is more impressive; and your experience, paid and volunteer, listed in reverse chronological order according to categories you will devise and tailor to each job. To convince the reader of your professional skills, you will add language and computer skills, if you have them; to hook the reader, you will add interests and activities.