When the economy suffers, people lose their jobs. We know this reality, and many of us have experienced it – now and back in the 80s and 90s (my Mom remembers the Great Depression of the 30s). This time there is a new, and annoying, trend. Self-help books, webinars and outplacement coaches are creating a plethora of eager networkers. Like telephone solicitors, they are suddenly in your life. I’m not denying how important relationships are to the job-seeker. The problem is turning a solid interpersonal competency – that can be bedrock during tough times – into a cheap technique. When networking advances are built on people’s insecurities, fear and sometimes desperation, it’s too little too late.
Networking is, at its best, a way of staying connected to others on the planet. And connections are built on mutual interests, genuine concern and attention. Authentic networking takes time and energy. It requires you to get out of your own little bubble and look around. More than that, it means you are willing to give before you get. Inauthentic networking tries to take a shortcut, with techniques like sending a message to your entire address book announcing you are looking for work. Inauthentic networking is like junk mail, or speed dating: its premise is that quantity can match quality.
Inauthentic networking can actually backfire and hurt your chances to find work. Here are five keys to consider while becoming an authentic networker. And the best time to begin is now – before you find yourself desperately needing connection.
- Generosity: A willingness to share, without cost or obligation, some of your knowledge. Authentic networkers don’t mind answering an email with a question in their area of expertise. They freely give advice and resources. They share templates, and tools that have worked for them. They share resources and names of vendors.
- Genuine Interest in others: An authentic networker doesn’t just collect business cards in a file. They talk with people, and ask questions to learn more about them. They look and listen to others. They stay present when doing so. Instead of thinking “how can this person be a help to me” they listen and think “what an interesting person.” Doing so allows them to practice their generosity. When they see a certain article or event, they know right away who they should pass it on to. And they do – without expectation of return.
- Directness and honesty: Authentic networkers are honest about their own needs. They know that it feels good for others to give, as well as to get. If they are seeking information or referrals, they ask directly. They share personal information and trials one-on-one and with sensitivity, aware that disclosure can be intense or awkward for others. They keep their intentions above-board and this builds trust. When they reach out for help it is with the understanding that others may, or may not, have what is needed or be able to help.
- Availability: Authentic networkers make room in their busy lives for others, even though they are busy. They make time to sit down for an hour to motivate a new university graduate who is interested in their field. They take 15 minutes on the phone to coach and mentor someone at another company. They read and offer suggestions when others put out a call for volunteer editors. If meeting with them is a waste of time, they admit it and suggest other more fruitful options.
- Involvement: Finally, authentic networkers reach out in tangible ways that require commitment as well as time. They find a volunteer organization or a cause that they can feel some passion for. They sit on Boards, they sign petitions, they participate in charity runs, they work in the field, and they get their hands messy. They connect with others with similar interests and concerns. They understand that there is power for social change when groups pull together.
Authentic networking is important. It develops interpersonal and emotional skills, and it increases leadership influence and career success. Many leaders I coach are not naturally extroverted, and they find it hard to network. Often, they don’t want to be seen as unauthentic. Bravo to that! I suggest that you start small. Each gesture you make toward others – outside of yourself- can have a ripple effect on stretching your network.