Being a job coach, I’ve been amazed that the most needed skill for anyone to master is the one that is the least understood. Networking.
Think about the first job you ever had, chances are it was a job you got through someone you knew. right? Whether that person was a parent, a former teacher, a friend of a friend of a friend, an aunt, an uncle, each of these individuals are examples of people who know us, and are part of our network.
It is the strength of your business network that more often than not, dictates the success of your employment search. When you go to the movies, do you want to spend $16 (the price of a show in Manhattan) or would you like to find a way to get in for free? The answer is simple, you want to get in for free! Networking doesn’t allow you to get a job for free, but a good networker can shave weeks and even months off their job search. In the worst economy since the Great Depression, identifying contacts and building relationships with them as a means of getting a job is more important than ever. So why isn’t this skill taught, and how did I learn it. After all, as a job coach, you should know how to do this, right?
In my opinion, and I’m stressing opinion, because I have never seen nor heard of networking skill building classes, networking is not taught because it’s import has only come to the fore in the last twenty years or so.
The 70’s 80’s and early 90’s saw the end of people getting a job and remaining with that employer or industry for the rest of their careers.
That job retainment model has been vaporized thanks to the internet, and massive budget cuts. Put simply, where once it was enough to put your resume out there, and get a call back, now you have to do more and be more. It’s not enough to have an MA a PhD or even a post doc, you have to be able to differentiate yourself from the crowd and make yourself seen and heard. If this is not done, people will have no reason to want to develop a relationship with you, and without a positive relationship with people who are in the career(s) you are interested in, your ability to find out about open positions and receive an offer will be shredded before you have a chance to get started.
How did I learn to network, and why am I so good at it, after all, I could just be some stranger spewing out stuff I know nothing about. The short answer is, I’m not. I became a networking master because I had to, and I learned from the best networkers in the World, baseball executives, and I had a very good teacher, Dan King,, the founder and director of Career Planning and Management Incorporated in Boston, MA. www.careerfirm.com
When you’re born with a disability, as I was, the “professionals” are very eager to point out the things you can’t do, how, when you do succeed, you are an “inspiration” and help people to put their own lives in prospective. That thinking is negative in that it de-emphasizes what the person does well, and looses sight of the fact that they are PEOPLE who would like to work and be financially independent to the greatest degree possible. You also learn how to make yourself stand out for something other than walking with a limp. I had to learn how to find something that would allow people to pay attention to me in a way that demonstrated my value as an employee, my ability to do something very few people could that would serve as a means for me to build relationships.
In 2001 and 2004, I attended the Baseball Winter Meetings because I wanted to work in Minor League and/or Major League Baseball.
Since I walk with difficulty, and get tired if I’m on my feet for long periods, interning and the grind that comes with it was something outside my capabilities. Being at the meetings twice, I noticed that job seekers who were:
Positive, knowledgeable and had something to offer that others did not, were the candidates that got interviews and job offers.
Moreover, working in sports, particularly baseball, is a very tight industry where if you develop a positive reputation, you get hired, if you don’t you don’t get hired, period. In order to succeed, you need to demonstrate tenacity, integrity, outside-the-box thinking.
These are skills that one needs in a job search and in life. Facing such stiff competition, I thought outside the box.
I played irish fiddle, and had played the National Anthem while in college for basketball games, I thought to myself if I can perform the Anthem on the fiddle and get noticed, maybe I can get a job in baseball?
Well, I didn’t end up getting a job in the game, but what I did get was an ability to do something really cool, and make people remember me. I’ve since learned that in order to build an effective network, you have to be able to offer something that makes you stand out. In my case, it was performing the National Anthem in a very unique way. So the moral of the story is, when creating relationships, find something that you can offer that no one else can. A website, a podcast, a blog, study abroad experience in a country that’s rarely visited, language skills..
When you do that, you demonstrate a value and increase your chances of developing a positive relationship with individuals who are in a capacity to hire you. Later this week, I’m going to expand on the initial steps for reaching out to contacts and how to develop them.