Yes, Networking!

When I introduce the topic of networking to my transition candidates, something happens. There are a handful of people (a small handful) who smile, settle back in their chair, and nod their heads, ready to go. The vast majority however, seem to turn a new shade of pale, grip the armrests on the chair a little tighter, and breathe a bit shallower. They brace themselves knowing they need to talk about networking and that it’s something they should be doing, but they’d rather do just about anything else!

I often start the conversation by asking how they understand networking. Candidates will have a variety of general descriptions. I probe a little more and it doesn’t take long before they share what networking is for them. Just like begging, it is embarrassing, awkward . . .  And I could go on. 

How can you possibly engage in networking effectively if it feels like begging? The thought of meeting with people you may not know well, talking about  yourself, and asking for their input and support can seem daunting and downright scary. The fear is palpable if you pay attention – your heart beats faster, your palms get sweaty, your stomach feels tense and tight. That fear response is triggered by your thoughts – that little voice in your head that connects networking to begging and says that “nobody really wants to talk to me” or “this will never work.” Those thoughts trigger a response. You feel scared and then you procrastinate.

Fear is a natural response to change, and change moves us out of our comfort zone. Be aware of your brain compounding the issue by sending messages that make the task even harder. Networking is not like begging! 

Remember the following…

You have done this before. Networking happens throughout your career both at work and in your personal life. Asking people you know and trust for advice, recommendations, and feedback is networking. I’m certain that you (without realizing it) have been doing it for years.

You have helped others network. Along the way I imagine colleagues, family and friends have asked you for support. They may have even asked you to talk to a friend, colleague or family member of theirs. And if you were asked, I’m guessing you said yes. We help others and they in turn help us.

Start with the people who know you and want to support you. You aren’t networking (at least to start) with strangers. You are beginning with your inner circle of colleagues, friends and family and moving out from there.

Be prepared and have a plan. First, think about what you need from your network (i.e., advice, feedback, information, connections, etc). Then, develop your networking list. Think about all the different areas of your professional and personal life and list your closest relationships first - the people who know you best. When you know what you need and you know who you want to talk to, getting started seems much easier. 

You are growing your network. It doesn’t matter how many people you start with on your list. As you engage with your network and ask them to connect you to other people who might be able to share information or opportunities, your network will grow.

There is a book on my shelf that I appreciate both for its content as well as its title: “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers. The title serves as a reminder that despite the fear we may experience when we face something that isn’t what we know or are comfortable with, we can still take action to “do it anyway.”

So accept the transition, know that you might feel afraid, say "shhh" to the voice in your head, and network anyway!

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  1. Melinda Brown's avatar
    Melinda Brown
    | Permalink
    Thanks, Tamar, for the reminder that networking is just another word for talking to people. I think we tend to over-think what networking really is when we actually we do it all the time - with people at work, the supermarket, at social events, church, the golf course, etc.
  2. Russ Knight's avatar
    Russ Knight
    | Permalink
    I love the networking conversation and appreciate the gripping of chair arms and gnashing of teeth that comes when you bring it up!

    Before you begin you have to have a good message; a reason to connect.

    My favorite thing to suggest is to build a spreadsheet once you're ready for the conversation. Make a column for every area of influence: current job - including bosses, peers, direct reports, vendors and anyone else you know or met wearing that hat. Would they take your call? They go on the list.
    Then you add additional columns for each area of your influence: schools, boards/committees, community activities, neighbors, former jobs, etc.

    Good piece.
  3. Tamar Kagan's avatar
    Tamar Kagan
    | Permalink
    Agreed Melinda - it always makes a difference to remind people that they are already networking and not realizing it.

    And Russ - I love your spreadsheet structure. I find that so often clients are reaching out randomly to people as they think of them, and don't realize that they are missing a lot of people from their list. The list also acts as a reminder for who has been contacted and what came out of each conversation. Staying organized is critical.

    I also like that you pointed out if the person 'would they take your call, they go on the list'. I think it was Orville Pierson who said (in his book on networking) - whoever would be happy to hear from you goes on your list!

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