The do's and don'ts of networking to find a job

Apr 08, 2015

Whether you work in a cubicle or a corner office, an assembly line or a sales floor, everyone could use a little career advice now and then. Our career coach, Joyce Russell, helped people solve their workplace conundrums, from how to ask for a promotion to how to deal with a difficult boss.

Readers:

Welcome to the April online chat. Looking forward to your questions. I will also share some tips (do's and don'ts) when networking for jobs! 

Best,

JRussell

Thanks for taking my question. We recently moved, and my husband is in a job he doesn't like. He applies for other jobs he is well qualified for, but nothing happens. We know he needs to network, but we don't know how. When you are new to an area, how do you network? How can you make those connections that are so crucial to getting a job?

Great question and one that I often get asked. When you are new to an area, it is important to learn as much as you can about that area. Read the local newspaper to learn more about current issues and events. Attend some of those events to meet people and learn more. These can be anything from business events (Chamber of Commerce) to sports to church to arts/music events. All of these can give you a better feel for the area and enable you to connect with individuals who live there. So, it's not just about business connections, but about people connections.

Also, the more you learn about the local area, the more you will have topics to talk about when meeting people in that area. Also, check with the state government labor department for their job listings for their area. The area may also publish their "Top Local Employers" list which could give you a good idea about firms in the area. So, the key is to learning as much as you can about the local area in terms of comity, culture, and industry. Then, use this information to establish stronger relationships with people in the area and start telling them about what you want to do. Best of luck! 

A friend of mine recently had a "digital" interview with a major company. Instead of calling or visiting, he had to log into some webpage, he was given a question, and then had to record himself answering the question. No redos, no starting over. I have NEVER heard of such a thing before! That would make me far more uncomfortable than a phone interview, and I hate phone interviews!

Great to bring this up. Yes, this is used more often now although it may seem unusual. The firm is trying to screen people by a less expensive method than bringing everyone in for in-person interviews or using their own employees' time for phone interviews. It could be an early part of the process if they have lots of applicants for their jobs. Or, sometimes in a technology firm, they might expect applicants to be familiar with these types of interviews.

To prepare for this type of interview, it would be very important for the person to make sure to practice how they sound on a recording (maybe practice on his or her own first and get feedback from someone). It's amazing what you learn about how you can improve when you record yourself or videotape yourself. They have to treat this as seriously as a phone interview and really sound positive, with a strong, clear and concise voice since they do not get any retakes. This is why practice and feedback from a friend is a good idea. Definitely not as easy as a phone interview where you have a back-and-forth exchange and it seems more natural. Thanks for sharing. 

Hello- I am starting to contemplate my next move, and am considering looking outside of my current industry for opportunities. I am currently a Director of Communications, so the skills should be transferable. My own network is very industry-specific, so I was thinking a placement agency might be helpful. Do you have advice on how to find an executive placement service that would be a good fit for both my skill set and desired career transition?

Yes, your skills should be very transferable. Like others, the importance of building a network is very important so having a good social-media (e.g. LinkedIn) profile is very important. Also, using any type of networking to share what you do with others is important so that if they see the quality of your work, they may be interested in hiring you.

When looking for placement agencies, you may want to check with friends who have had good success since word-of mouth is often the most trustworthy source of data. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau once you have found a few placement agencies to make sure no one has filed complaints against them. In addition, carefully review the agencies to see if their focus is more on getting you a job or simply making money off of you. Do they "guarantee to get you a job at a specified income" (which would be hard for them to do). Do they charge you a lot of upfront fees? Do they have an overly complicated contract (be sure to review their contract in advance)?

Once again, the best resource would be others in your field who have used placement agencies and their views of how successful they have been.

Do you recommend starting with Linkedin for cold calls or mutual associations/college networks, etc? Thank you

You could use LinkedIn to send emails to people based on similar connections (you went to the same high school, have a similar background, etc). Is there anyone who can virtually connect you so it is less artificial? You could also call them directly, although I think trying email first may be an easier way to initially connect. Definitely look for an area of common interest to use that in your connection. 

Typing this on my phone so please excuse typos. I am flat out miserable in my job and looking for an escape hatch. Since my last job search I have expanded my network by joining alumni groups, serving on non profit boards of directors and other community involvement so as to increase my network. (I had been unemployed 4 years ago and realized how poorly networked I was and resolved to fix that) now that I have a nice network, I'm at a loss as to how to use it though. It seems unseemly to simply ask, hey got a job for me, but at the same time, if that works..... What are the best ice breakers within a network to help generate job leads?

Great that you have enhanced  your professional network! Instead of approaching people with the "do you have a job for me?", instead just ask about them and their job (what are they doing, how is it going, what's the best part about it). Sometimes starting out by talking about them and their job makes for an easier way to move into telling them what you are looking for. After answering your questions, they probably will turn it around to ask how things are going for you. At that point you can say that you are looking into new possibilities in XXX field or area. Then ask for their advice about how to go about looking in that area (instead of directly asking them for a job). When you ask for advice, you may learn some valuable things that can help you out. This is generally a better strategy than asking for a job. Often, when asking for advice they may connect you with someone else who can help you out. Or, you could ask them for any connections. Good luck!

Are some kinds of networking events better than others for making contacts?

Job contacts come from connections to people so really most any type of events will be valuable for making connections. People recommend you for jobs or stick their neck out to give you contacts if they feel that you will make them look good (and certainly not make them look bad) so if you attend or participate in the same things that someone else attends (church, scouting events, community, nonprofit event, business professional event, etc.) they may feel there is a little bit of a connection. If you are involved with the charity or business organization, etc., then they may feel even better about recommending you to their contacts or people in their firm. I think the focus should be on authentically meeting and connecting to people more so than the type of event.

I am working part time but looking for a full time job. I have not gotten any replies to the resumes that I have sent. The big problem is that I am over 50 and looking for a job in the computer field. I know the references to mainframe work dates me and probably gets my resume thrown out. How much of my experience should I throw out of my resume? (Would it be better to say I was a housewife rather than a mainframe systems programmer?) Where should I go to get help in rewriting my resume? I know it will cost but I need a job. Please don't mention networking. I am geeky and nerdy with little social skills so I don't have a network of friends.

There are plenty of resources for reviewing your resume. You can look at career sites (careerbuilder.com, monster.com), check your resume out with templates from books (Knock 'em Dead Resumes), ask college counseling centers (where you got your degree - as a alum they may be willing to help you), or ask a career coach (see International Coach Federation). Also, there are job/career fairs for those over 50 as well as general job fairs. Check with AARP for listings of those job fairs. They are usually free and very helpful with plenty of resources to provide tips for those who have been out of the workforce for a while or are changing careers, etc.

So, the bottom line is that there are many more resources now for those over 50 than ever before, and they are very helpful. Check them out. They are also a great way to connect to others in similar situations which can often be helpful. Usually the recommendation is that you only list the past 10 years on your resume, so sharing much older information is NOT a good idea. Plus, employers are most interested in your current set of skills not what you did a long time ago. Good luck!

Everyone talks about the importance of networking, but not so much about how to do it effectively. Here are some tips for successfully preparing for a networking event:

1. Identify your goals BEFORE you attend the event (e.g., meet 3-5 new people, learn about the host or his/her company)

2. Do your homework BEFORE you attend ((e.g., learn about the purpose for the event, who the host speakers are, who the other attendees will be). The more you know in advance, the more comfortable you will be and the more intelligent you will sound when talking with others.

3. Prepare something to say about yourself when you meet people (a brief introduction). Think about what is most important for them to know.

4. Make sure to learn what the appropriate dress code is and follow it. If you are not sure, dress one level above what you think. Always better to be more formally dressed than too casual. 

Sometimes, I want to finish a conversation at a networking event and meet more people before there seems to be polite way to finish. What are some things I can do to make sure that I can move on while maintaining a positive interaction?

This is a great question and one that people are often confused about - how to end a conversation at a networking event. The key is to end it as politely as possible and to thank them. For example, if there is a buffet of food or drinks available, you could say " It was so nice to talk with you, I am going to go over to get some food,"  or "I really enjoyed talking with you and hope we can continue this conversation in the next week or so (exchange business cards), I see a colleague I would like to say hi to,"  or "I hope you have a great evening at this event, it was good talking with you. I am going to get some water". Again, the key is to be polite, thank them for talking and then state a short reason for leaving.

As a college underclassman, I'm starting to look toward networking as a way to get my foot in the door for interviews, but I'm finding that my established network of friends and family isn't sufficient for my desired field. How does a young college student begin finding a network? I'm sure there must be alumni of my university that do what I'd like to do, but how do I find them and reach out to them without being pushy? I'm not great at interviewing, and I'd like to learn more about different fields, so I'd like advice on getting informational interviews.

This is a great question and it is wonderful that you are already trying to network. I actually just had this conversation with a college sophomore this week. What I would recommend is to find out about the organizations or student professional clubs in your major area. The Dean of the college or field should know (or a Department Chair). Other students (especially juniors and seniors) can be very helpful with providing tips and connections. You can also go to the Alumni office of your school. For example, if you are in the Business program, you can reach out to the alumni office in the business school. Most specific schools have their own alumni offices or the college as a whole does. They are often very willing to talk with you and offer ideas.

But, the best resources are your fellow students and faculty in your classes. Even if you are not sure what you want to study, if you have a faculty member for a subject you enjoy, you can always ask him/her after class for some time to talk about your career field and tips. Also, check out the school's website for events and activities to attend. There are numerous events that are sponsored by students, alumni, faculty, etc that if you attend, you can also meet people. Most of them do not cost anything and are great ways to meet others in your field. Best of luck and great that you are starting so soon!

A guy at work calls me 'Sweetie', usually when he needs a favor. I assume he's just being nice but it really annoys me every time (I would prefer only my husband call me sweetie) We have different bosses, and I don't want to make a fuss or file a formal complaint, any tips on how to nicely say "No thanks" to sexist nicknames?

Can you jokingly just say "you mean to say xx (your name)" when he says this? Or, just directly say, "my name is xxx, not sweetie; I'm sure you  meant to say that". Often, for this type of issue, being direct once usually is enough. If not, then you may have to repeat it a few times. Since this is not your boss, you should feel even more comfortable letting him know how to address you. You could even say "I 'm sure you are just being sweet in calling me "sweetie" but I would rather you use my name". Or, you could say "sure, sweetie, I'm happy to do that". But, I do think being direct and honest (and to the point, not overly dramatic or too lengthy about it) is much better than using sarcasm, etc. Best of luck!

You mentioned going to the alum office from where I graduated. That is hundreds of miles away.

I understand. Would they still be willing to review your resume if you emailed it and followed up with a phone call? Some colleges are very willing to do this while others are not. What do you have to lose just to ask?

Thanks readers for your questions and comments. Our next online chat is Wednesday May 6 at 12 noon. Until then, best of luck with your job searches and career issues. I look forward to taking more questions then.

Best,

JRussell

In This Chat
Joyce E.A. Russell
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist.
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