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What the Heck Is "Networking" and How Do I Do It?

Your job search network extends way beyond office wallsYou know how everybody always says networking is the best way to get a job? Well, I have a dirty little secret: For the longest time, I had no idea what networking was. People would say, "networking just means relationship-building." OK. But what does that mean, exactly? The whole thing remained vague and murky in my mind. When I finally grasped the concept, I realized, Dorothy-like, that I'd been doing it all along. In fact, the essence of networking is so simple I can summarize it in two words: Being. Friendly.

Psychologically speaking, people like to be friendly and helpful to people who've been friendly and helpful to them. That's human nature, and it can be very important when you're looking for a job. An article in the Riley Guide (an online directory that helps job seekers use the Internet to full advantage) points out some simple ways to network:

You are networking when you:

  • Attend professional or trade association meetings
  • Talk to other parents at your child's sporting or music events
  • Volunteer for a local park "clean-up" day
  • Visit with other members of your social clubs or religious groups
  • Talk to your neighbors
  • Strike up a conversation with someone else waiting at the
    veterinarian's office
  • Post messages on mailing lists or in chat rooms
  • Talk to salespeople visiting your office.

Of course, some forms of job search networking are more obviously work-related. Examples include attending job fairs, going on informational interviews, joining formal networking groups, or using online social networking sites such as LinkedIn.

Job search networking gets a bad rap because a lot of people don't get that it has to be both ongoing and reciprocal. Here's another tidbit from the Riley Guide:

Networking does not have to be a carefully choreographed process of meeting and greeting people. It's much better done on a more informal basis. But remember that networking is always a two-way street.

In other words, don't start asking for favors unless you've built up good will by being friendly. If you're cranky and antisocial most of the time, then suddenly become sweet and smarmy when you need a job, no one's going to jump at the chance to help you.

What if you've relocated and haven't built up a network yet? The Working Girl blog addressed that issue in Creating Contacts 101:

Here’s what Working Girl did when she moved to Paris. She started with the name of one person, a friend of a friend of a friend. She called that person and asked to speak with her about possible freelance writing opportunities. At the end of the talk, she asked for names of other people she could contact.

Rinse.  Repeat.

Simple, n'est-ce pas?

And if you still don't have a good grasp of what this networking thing is all about, pop over to the Jibber Jobber blog and read 66 Tips for Better Networking. That ought to be enough to clear it all up.

How about it… Do you have any particularly successful or unusual networking tricks to share with your fellow job seekers?  Cough 'em up!

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