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So Don't Call It Networking

Any career services professional will tell you that networking is the single most important job search activity. Indeed, outplacement companies and career counselors hold seminars and workshops devoted just to this subject. But no matter how much we say so, it seems many job seekers hate to network and prefer to spend their time sending out resumes or cruising job sites on the Internet.

I realize now that the newly unemployed often misunderstand the networking concept. Because networking is encouraged by the career consultant, individuals tend to view it as a skill specific to the job hunt, and not a widely-applicable, if not essential, work or life skill. Some people dismiss networking as a purely mechanistic process, while others avoid it because they think it's phony or inauthentic. At best, many individuals network just out of necessity and then forget all about it once they're re-employed.

So if it will do any good, don't call it networking. If it just conjures up negative connotations forget about it. Instead, consider it relationship building, or creating and maintaining channels of communication.

The important insight is to use the crisis and opportunity afforded by a job loss to learn new ways to become known and make friends, and acquire a life skill that will benefit you and your career well after your job search is successfully completed.

Think of networking, or whatever you wish to call it, as an ongoing mission to widen your circle of friends and associates, and to get to know and trust more people and to be known by more people. Think of it not only as a vital, near-term challenge, but also as a long-term investment in your career and, indeed, in your life.

Regardless of what you call it, reaching out to old friends, recent acquaintances or new people is essential to any job search today. While technology can be a great help, people are the path to new employment. After all, the majority of job openings never get posted or publicized, and the only way to learn about them is by talking with people, the more the better.

That having been said, there's no single way to network, and there's plenty of advice out there about how to go about it effectively. But a few more networking suggestions never hurt:

As a starting point, every job seeker must accept the reality that it's necessary to spend time, energy and money to find the right new job. As one career consultant put it recently: “It's not done for free sitting at home.† Indeed, the biggest trap for the job seeker is to sink into isolation. So avoid becoming insular…reach out for advice, support, ideas and information to market yourself, to meet new people, to get what you need for yourself and your career.
Networking always includes information gathering, and this begins with reading and being up to date in your field. Of course, this will also help you achieve career goals and increase your worth to your employer.
Be imaginative when reaching out to people. Don't limit yourself to business colleagues or contacts. Talk to your doctors, clergy, local politicians, haircutters or personal trainers. Experience indicates they're among the best, but unappreciated, networking resources.
Networking really begins by engaging with your peers in your current company, not only in your own department but across functions. And talk to your peers in competitor companies as well.
Getting to know the right people means you'll also know what's going on in your industry. That's an essential business skill, not just a job-hunting tool.
Ongoing networking means attending professional association functions and participating in community groups. It might mean becoming active on non-profit or industry boards. It might mean teaching. And it definitely means doing whatever is necessary to engage with influential people.
Job seekers shouldn't view their outreach just as a means of advancing their own businesses or careers. For it to be genuine and mutual, individuals have to be willing to take a personal interest in the success of others in their network and demonstrate it by offering career advice when requested, offering to help someone learn about another field, or even providing a business lead. As a knowledgeable search consultant pointed out: “Executives who are ‘takers' won't function well at this level of networking. You must always be open to helping others now if you want to get help down the road. Networking, like friendship, only works when it's reciprocal.â€
Networking, it must be said, comes more easily to some than others. Many people network -- or build relationships -- instinctively during their lives. For instance, politicians and sales professionals do so all the time, and they can be a great resource for the novice networker who's recently unemployed. On the other hand, experience suggests that engineers, IT professionals, attorneys and CFOs typically don't devote much time to networking when they're employed. But there's no reason everyone can't come through a job loss crisis a stronger person and a more effective business professional. Building and keeping new relationships is the way to do it.

Bernadette Kenny is Executive Vice President of global career management services Lee Hecht Harrison.

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