When people seek out career counseling, they are often looking to choose, change or advance their careers. Networking is key to this, especially with people who are
currently employed in their area of interest. However, to succeed in maximizing networking contacts requires
something of them—they have to learn to change their approach and search tactics. They must adopt what this career counselor refers to as networking plus.
Clients typically avoid networking if they are not educated about the benefits and the practice of reciprocity. They either come in with an attitude of WIIFM (What’s In It For Me), or resist reaching out because they think they are imposing. Neither approach is effective. One-sided networking eventually turns off the people from whom they are requesting help. Alternatively, sincere or introverted clients fail to contact others and miss out on opportunities. Given that the majority of professional jobs today are filled not through published advertisements, but via personal networking, it’s important to have the right approach.
The right or balanced approach is to practice networking plus, or the “dance of reciprocity,” where you enter into every networking encounter believing it is a two-way exchange. You confidently ask for what you need, and offer what you can in return. This attitude of reciprocity is the “plus” added to networking.
Informational interviewing is the part of the networking process when you meet with networking contacts to glean information, advice, and to be connected to others. You know that when you ask a person for insider company tips or referrals, you are giving that person a chance to share what they enjoy talking about (their profession or company) and they get the energy boost that comes from helping another (you!). With this head’s-up approach, you also remain alert to the other person’s needs and see opportunities for you to provide connections or resources.
Now that you have the mindset, here’s the simple skill set on how to effectively engage in networking plus:
- Approach. As you are listening and perhaps taking notes in your informational interview, be attuned to perceiving the other person’s needs and seeing opportunities to provide connections or resources.
- Follow up. Understand the importance of and practice follow up. Good follow up, expressing appreciation and summarizing your takeaways, is the minimum and essential form of reciprocating for what the other person has offered to you. It may also be your opportunity to offer resources or connections in return, which I cover more in Part II.
Are you starting to see how practicing networking as a two-way exchange of needs and offerings, an exchange of energy, is a dance that can help you advance your career (and your life)? In Part II, I will go further into helping you understand what you have to offer and how to best provide that.
Dave Gallison, MS, LPC
Dave specializes in a short term, action-oriented approach to providing career management solutions to clients seeking to choose, change or advance their careers and reach their professional and personal potential. His unique strength as a career counselor is preparing you for informational interviews and directly assisting you in gaining access to employed contacts within desired organizations.