OVERCOMING NETWORKING STAGE FRIGHT


Submitted by: Robert Benway, EdD; MBA, CCC Volunteer Career Coach and Assistance Professor at National Lewis University

 

Networking is widely recognized as the most effective approach toward sourcing job openings, and lots of studies have demonstrated this.  But many people I’ve encountered as a career coach at Community Career Center find networking very difficult, because of fear of being rejected.  This blog will explore techniques of networking and an approach of overcoming those fears.

To begin, there are four main goals of networking, which are listed below.  What I tell CCC members and job seekers is these goals are easy to remember and activate at any time. 

First, approach network contacts and ask for advice, never ask for a job.  Asking someone for advice is more likely to yield positive results because you are essentially requesting the person’s opinions based on their knowledge and experience, as opposed to asking for a job, which is far less likely to result in a useful response because it’s too confrontational and lacks information exchange.

 Approach example: “Mr. Smith, our mutual friend Jane Doe suggested I get advice from you about conducting a job search in the (name of occupation or industry).  Could I have 15-20 minutes of your time over a cup of coffee?”  My experience has been some decline, but most agree to give me their time.  That’s when I think of the old saw, the best things in life are free.  For each of us, the best thing in our lives is our time, so giving it to others is indeed a precious gift. 

Second, ask for names and contacting information of additional contacts at the encounter.

Approach example: “Mr. Smith, you have been very helpful in providing information.  Can you think of several people you could suggest would also provide helpful information to me on my job search?”

Third, ask for permission to contact the person again in a few weeks.

Approach example: “Mr. Smith, would it be okay if I contact you again in a few weeks?  By then you might thought of additional people I could contact.  Plus, I’d like to update you on my progress with your suggestions.”

Fourth, ask if you can do anything for the person.

Approach example: “Mr. Smith, is there anything I can do for you in return for your time and wisdom?”  I actually tried this for first time some years ago.  In response, my network contact told me he was searching for an accountant.  So I referred him to a friend of mine, who interviewed, landed the job, and solved my network contact’s problems.

Next, a major hurdle of networking is overcoming the stage fright typically associated with approaching complete strangers and asking for help.  A technique I found helpful in my own experience with job search is to do the following.  First, thoroughly prepare for the contact by gathering as much information about the occupation and the network contact as possible.  Second, practice the interview on your own by assuming the identity of an investigative reporter, or a detective conducting interviews and gathering information on a case, or a quality control inspector conducting an investigation.  This play acting allows you to overcome the shyness of your own identity and proceed with the conversation as though you are an entirely different person, out of body from yourself.  Third, take the plunge and try the approach on a network contact who you know as someone who is easy going.  Fourth, continue networking and enjoy the stimulation of these conversations.

Next, it is helpful to approach networking as an important, perhaps the most important, component of job search.  Job search is a business model, so you can think of networking as project management pursuant to successful completion of your job search.  Any good project manager begins and frequently updates records of networking.  These records reveal clues about your job search progress and often alert you to things you may have otherwise missed.  The format is less important than keeping records you are comfortable with and can use effectively.

Next, after your job search is concluded and you landed a good job, it is important to send thank you messages to your network contacts.  Remember that they invested their precious time in giving you advice, so you owe it to them to report back on the fruits of their wisdom.  Doing this is easy since you’ve kept records on your network contacts.  In addition, it is important to keep in touch with your network contacts periodically, explained below. 

Finally, stay in touch with your network contacts into the future. This is easily facilitated if you have a Linked In account.   Periodically contact them, bring each other up to date on each other’s work and personal lives, and use them whenever you get the chance.  You never know if or when you’ll need each other again for job searches.




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