Author Archives: admin

  • -

10 Tips to Better Networking

Some people seem born to network. They love working the crowd, meeting new people, and pressing the flesh. Others–perhaps the majority–are uncomfortable with the idea.

But in this day and age, networking can be a key to making the sale. “That’s great,” you say. “But I’m not in the business of selling.” Don’t you believe it: every unemployed person is in the business of selling. What you’re selling is YOU, and networking is the most efficient and effective way to do it.

Self-proclaimed business evangelist Guy Kawasaki defined good networking as always thinking “yes.” There is a lot to recommend this approach: even if you never say it out loud, expecting yes helps you project a positive attitude that is attractive to people. In fact, some experts go as far as to say that smiling when you’re on the phone can make a difference to the person on the other end of the line.

Networking can take place at a party, over coffee, or in an organized event. Sometimes it’s better to start small. Sometimes it may be helpful to enlist the help of a more gregarious friend. It may seem impossible, but learning to network is crucial to job-hunters … which is why we’ve compiled a list of 10 easy-to-follow techniques to make your networking more effective.

  1. Ask for help or advice. This idea, coming from none other than Ben Franklin, works on the theory that people are more likely to do you a second favor after they’ve already done something for you. Requesting a favor or friendly advice tends to force that dynamic.
  2. Offer to help. The flip side of item #1 is to offer your aid to people. Not as in “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”–that’s more likely to turn people off. This is a simple way to demonstrate that you’re the team player. (note: don’t offer advice unless asked).
  3. Get pumped. If you don’t consider yourself a networker, it’s hard to get excited about it … but it’s necessary. Focus on the possibilities that come from creating new relationships. You can’t fake excitement … you need to find ways to make networking exciting for you.
  4. Skip the elevator pitch Not every encounter is about making a direct sale. The most useful networking is aimed at creating genuine relationships. You don’t have to work your pitch into every conversation. It’s more about paying attention to the other person.
  5. … But have it ready just in case. If someone asks what you do or what you’re looking for, you need to have a response that answers the question quickly and concisely. Write it out beforehand. Focus on what you can offer. Practice in front of a mirror to build confidence.
  6. Update social media. Online sites can be part of networking. If people decide at some point to look you up on LinkedIn, you’d better have a profile that helps them see the real you. What’s even better: regularly share helpful content and create your own posts.
  7. Scrub your online image. While you’re boosting your LinkedIn presence, take a second look at your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Any embarrassing or inappropriate posts should be deleted, or at least made private.
  8. Be interesting. It’s a whole lot easier to strike up a conversation if you have something to talk about. While you might want to skip politics, reading up on a few current events or other interesting topics will help people know there’s more to you than a job title.
  9. Step out of your comfort zone. Nervous? Most people are. But starting conversations with others who are also uncomfortable doesn’t just build your network; it also paints you as a good leader who’s not afraid to take the initiative.
  10. Follow up. Particularly if you’re at an event, you don’t want to send a LinkedIn invite to someone you just met. But you DO want to reestablish contact within a day or two. While you’re talking with people, ask what avenue of follow-up they prefer: text, phone call, email, whatever.

These tips can help whether you’re at some type of networking event, or just talking to someone you randomly met. Practice them on family and friends–or, as we mentioned, in front of a mirror. Just like everything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become.

  • -

How to Handle Losing Your Job during the Holidays

Losing your job is always crushing; losing your job during the holidays–especially when you didn’t see it coming–can be emotionally crippling.

It’s not just the idea of losing money in the midst of the buying season, although that is certainly bad enough. It’s also the feeling of isolation, like everyone around you is Santa Claus and you’re the Grinch. Friends and family are stringing popcorn and attending festive parties; you’re scanning job posting and updating your résumé. Ho ho ho.

There’s the fear–quite reasonable–that the news of your job loss will cast a long shadow over the holidays. Obviously, no one wants Christmas to be less fun or festive … making it all the more tempting to say the heck with it, enjoy the season, and plan to start job-hunting at the first of the year.

Bad idea.

Sure, the season is stressful enough. And end-of-year is more likely a time for cutting staff than a time for hiring. But experts say it’s critical to start the process right away. Even with the full economy, the average job search is 5 months these days … and the process has changed over the last few years. Particularly if it’s been a while since you had to search for a job, learning the right way to look for work may be a job in and of itself. At the very least, it should be a top priority in order to get back in the game as quickly as possible.

Before anything else, though, you need a plan of action. Here are some quick suggestions:

A Small Silver Lining

There’s no way to sugar-coat it: losing your job at the holidays absolutely sucks. But there is one tiny silver lining to that big black cloud of bad timing: the holidays are also a prime opportunity for networking. That holiday party you were dreading? Now it’s the perfect chance to let friends and colleagues know you’re available. You don’t want to come off as desperate or needy, of course, but you’re certainly allowed to drop the information into the conversation.

Also, the holidays are when we typically re-connect with old friends and acquaintances. No harm in trying to leverage that to further your network. Like we said, it’s a big cloud with a small silver lining, but it’s better than thinking negatively. Take the win.

Partner Up

Nothing will focus your job search so much as a trusted partner to help you stay positive and accountable. Confining your contact to recruiters and other job hunters–or worse, not talking to anyone–is self-defeating. You don’t need someone to kvetch to, you need a dedicated coach who’s not afraid to get in your face a bit and tell you what you need to hear. A person that knows you well enough to keep you motivated, moving, and in the proper mindset.

This is a time when you need to be proactive–and sometimes that’s difficult. Face it: sending out résumés can feel like mailing invitations to be rejected. You need someone to remind you that in realty, you’re kissing frogs in your search for the handsome prince–and that it’s all just part of the process.

Don’t Lose Your Routine

It’s easy enough to get out of your daily routine with the holidays, but losing your job means you have more of a reason to stay the course. Remember, the goal here is to get back into the work force, so keeping your 9-5 regiment going will keep you on track. Wake up at your normal time every weekday, dress at least in business casual (No sweat pants. Sorry.), and tackle your job hunt like … well, like a job. Make a list of what you want to accomplish that day, then get to work.

Take regular breaks, but keep on your schedule. While you’re at it, if you don’t have a daily exercise routine (many of the top CEOs and entrepreneurs do … just sayin’), now is a great time to start one. Job-hunting is physically and mentally draining; regular exercise will help you keep up your strength, and the endorphins will give your mood and your body a boost. Bonus: exercising relieves stress, builds confidence, and generally gives you a more positive outlook.

Believe in the Future

If you really loved your job, losing it can be even more devastating. But sometimes it helps to view this as a chance to hone your skill set and angle your career in a new direction. You may not have made the choice to be laid off, but taking ownership and using the opportunity to your advantage can be both liberating and empowering, and will leave you stronger as a professional.

No one is saying it will be easy–just that it will be worth it. The Brazilian writer Fernando Sabino said it best: “No fim, tudo dá certo. Se não deu, ainda não chegou ao fim.” Translated: “In the end, everything will be ok. If it’s not ok, it’s not yet the end.”

  • -

Finding Work in a Full Economy

The economy is–somewhat surprisingly, given the current world situation–strong, American confidence is high, and unemployment is at its lowest point in years.

So why are so many people still having trouble finding a job?

Well to start with, that isn’t a universal question. A year ago, job search site pointed out that out of 5.5 million available jobs, nearly 70% were spread between five industries: health care, professional services, retail, hospitality, and government. That’s great if you’re an X-ray Technician; if you’re in education or real estate, however, you could end up stuck.

Job availability also varies by location: this report from pointed out that in 2017, half of the new jobs in the US were created in just five states: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Georgia. In other words, states with a total of roughly 1/3 of Americans captured over 50% of the job growth. Again: great if you’re in Atlanta or Houston, not so good if you’re job-searching in Indianapolis.

Finally, there is the simple fact that many of the current job seekers who are struggling are in that “No-Fly Zone” in terms of age and experience, perceived to be either too qualified or too pricey. This is particularly true of people in their 50s and 60s who haven’t been job hunters for decades and find that it’s a whole new ballgame.

Keep Up With the Times … or Not

There is no end to the number of workshops, support groups, and blogs (like this one) that purport to teach job seekers–many of them age 50 or older–ways to adapt to the altered job search landscape. They teach how to leverage LinkedIn and other social media sites for maximum exposure. They offer seminars on how to write resumés, and forums for networking.

Most nowadays emphasize the importance of developing a “personal brand”: learning to think of your talents and experience as a product that can be marketed like any other brand. It sounds very promising, and instructors like to point to celebrities who have made it work for themselves. Research shows, however, that unless your last name happens to be Kardashian, developing a personal brand has little practical use.

In her book, Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today, researcher Ilana Gershon refutes much of the current conventional wisdom on looking for work. For example, many advisors will stress the need to get LinkedIn followers, no matter who they are: the more you spread your network, the more likely you are to connect with someone who’s looking for someone like you. Quantity of contacts is the key.

Gershon shoots this idea down by pointing out that most help white-collar job seekers are better off focusing on high-quality ties, like workplace ties. She stresses the importance of connecting to people you’ve worked with who can speak to your abilities, experience, and work ethics.

In the end, while social media ties can show that a potential worker is not stuck in the past, they’re still part of an overall presentation package. Creating a personal brand can help workers focus and hone their search, but it’s not an answer in and of itself. As Gershon writes,

“No one I talked to on the hiring side ever seemed to care about personal branding. Being good at personal branding isn’t an indication that the person will be good at the job, unless they’re trying to get a job as a marketer.”

Focusing on the Positive

While there is no silver bullet when it comes to job-hunting, the best overall advice is to trust your own experience. Your instincts, too, but that can be hard, particularly if you’ve been out of work for a while: it’s easy to start second-guessing yourself.

But your experience is more solid. Workers in their 50s and 60s, for example, have worked with many people; spending more time connecting with those folks is more likely to yield results than simply trying to collect followers. Only a fraction of people obtain a job through these so-called “weak ties, ” whereas over half claim to have found a job through workplace ties.

Rather than channeling all your energy into a personal brand, learn to think like an entrepreneur. We can’t all be Richard Branson, but we all know our own talents better than anyone. Read through lists of successful entrepreneurs. Find the things they had in common–with each other, and with you. The same sorts of  traits that have led them to be individual leaders might be the attitude that takes you into the job of your dreams.

  • -

The Interview Question You’re Never Ready to Answer

If you do any research at all before your job interview–and you had better–you’ve probably got some answers down pat: where you went to school, work history, greatest accomplishment, biggest challenge–the normal stuff.

Then there are the weird one or two pet questions that every interviewer has. They might be trick questions, or maybe not. There’s no planning for those, you just have to do the best you can.

But there is one question that only the savviest interviewers ever ask. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll never hear this question … but if you do, you had better have a good answer ready:

“What do you plan to achieve in the first 90 days that will make me glad I hired you?”

If you haven’t thought about it beforehand, this question can knock you for a loop. But a well-prepared response can make you look like a genius. Why? Well, by default, most interview questions are behavioral–they focus on what you have done. Thing is, we can’t control the past: it’s what happened, and that’s that. But what you say about the future can be very revealing, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways:

  1. It shows you’ve done your homework.

Face it, if you haven’t put much thought into this interview, there’s no way you can even start to answer our million-dollar question. But if you’ve done your due-diligence, you should have an idea of what the company does, what their vision is, and what their needs are. You don’t have to have a fully formed plan here, but you do need to be able to give an answer that demonstrates a working knowledge of the business.

  1. It shows you’re ready to work.

In this day and age, most new hires don’t have the luxury of a lengthy learning curve. Employers need new people who are ready to go from Day One. No one will be expecting you to have an in-depth understanding of the company, but showing you know enough to start contributing right away–and want to start contributing right away–can make an interviewer feel good about hiring you.

  1. It shows you’re a good fit.

Every company has a different culture, one that’s reflected in its people. Your answer here should demonstrate that you’ll mesh with the culture immediately. Let’s say you’re looking for an HR job. Some industries–financial, medical–are more rigid, both historically and by necessity. If you talk about coming in first thing and re-writing the rule book, that’s going to make people uncomfortable. By the same token, some businesses–web developers, ad agencies–can often have a looser environment: insisting your first moves would be to mandate a corporate dress code might have the employees coming after you with pitchforks and torches!

  1. It shows you’re qualified.

Entrepreneur Monica Eaton-Cardone said it best: “Success is a combination of the right knowledge and skill set, as well as hard work and the determination to succeed.”

  1. It shows you want the JOB, not just the position.

Finally, having some ideas on how you can make an immediate impact demonstrates your work ethic and attitude. Interviewers are quick to sniff out candidates that are only looking for a pay bump or new resume fodder. Detailing your initial goals shows you that you’re after something more: you want to do the work. And in some ways, you’re saying that you’ve already started.

As you can see, an interviewer can gain a lot of knowledge with a question like this. Of course, like we mentioned, there’s a good chance you’ll never be asked … but the cool thing is, the question is reversible: if you REALLY want to make a great impression, wait until the interviewer asks if YOU have any questions, then ask “What’s the best way to make you ecstatic that you hired me within the first 90 days?” Not only will it make you look smart and interested … you’ll also gain some good information for when you ARE hired.

  • -

Would You Move to a Position that Pays LESS?

Being out of a job is bad enough, but when it seems like there are no openings out there at all, it can be particularly depressing. If you’re a blue-color worker who feels the job market is whacked, well, you’re not wrong: a report earlier this year by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York revealed a somewhat shocking trend: workers without a bachelor’s degree have seen their salaries drop slightly over the past year … which might explain why they’re switching jobs at the highest rate since the survey was initiated in 2014.

But it doesn’t.

At first it doesn’t seem to make sense: earnings should be going up. The survey–updated every 4 months–shows that less-educated workers are in high demand: almost by default, that should mean employers are being forced to lift wages to attract new talent and keep their employees from being poached by outside rivals. We’re seeing that start to happen for workers with bachelor’s or advanced degrees … why wouldn’t the same hold true for non-degreed workers?

Overall, the labor market is probably about as hot as it can get: the unemployment rate for degreed workers 25 and older has been hovering around 2 percent since last year. Not much room to fall from there.

It’s about time, too. The market has spent nearly a decade trying to recover from the Great Recession. Employers could be excused if they got a little lazy, what with an unending horde of experienced, educated desperate-for-work Americans constantly knocking on their doors. But that has changed, and things are picking up for workers with degrees, including a nearly $6,000 increase in average annual salary.

It’s not happening for non-degreed workers, though: as we mentioned, their average salary has dropped–by nearly $5,000. Which makes their migration more puzzling: they’re obviously not leaving their jobs for more money. It appears that many of them are actually taking a cut in pay.

And it’s not for better benefits, either: another study reports that around 63% of less-educated workers surveyed say they’re satisfied with their benefits. That statistic has remained statistically constant for over a year. So if it’s not cash and it’s not benefits, what are today’s blue-collar workers looking for?

As it turns out, today’s laborers are looking for a better tomorrow–in the form of opportunity to grow with a company.

A recent article on pointed this out, as well, stating that employees leave jobs where there is no plan for upward progression. If there are no opportunities for advancement, then working harder has no benefit–leading workers to opt for situations with more demanding and more rewarding positions. If that means a cut in pay today in order to get to a better place tomorrow, so be it.

For those still among the unemployed, it is something to consider when looking at a new position. It’s still an “employee’s market” out there, and even larger companies are realizing that the whole “the customer is always right” mantra may be due to be replaced by a more worker-centric concept: “treat your employees right, and THEY will take care of your customers.” There may never be a better time for job-seekers to redouble their efforts.

  • -

Targeting Your Resume for Success

In a perfect world, all of us would keep our resumes constantly updated, just in case. The reality is, most of us completely ignore that important piece of paper until the day we need it … which, incidentally, is just about the worst time to be working on it.

Nobody likes writing a resume. Of course, there are services you can pay to do that for you, but most of us decide to tackle the tedious job ourselves. That’s actually a good move: the fact is, no one knows you as well as you; and since every single resume you send you be tweaked and tailored to the specific job you are applying for–yes, every one–you’re going to be doing a good bit of writing on this thing anyway.

With so many different elements influencing what goes into your resume, however, it can be hard to know where to start. We suggest getting a rough draft of information on paper (or screen) as your first move. Don’t worry about making corrections, getting the wording perfect, or any type of formatting yet: just start typing. As you go, there is one particular question you need to keep at the very front of your mind: who are you talking to?

Getting Past the Gatekeeper

The goal of a resume isn’t to get you a job–it’s to land you an interview. Unless you’re applying to a very small company, the person who first sees your resume is highly unlikely to be the person you’ll be reporting to … and that means your first job is to get past the gatekeeper.

The person–or these days, often the software program–that first culls your resume out of the slush-pile of responses wants a certain specific set of information … and probably won’t wade through a ton of superfluous prose to get to it. This isn’t the time for tons of relevant-but-unnecessary details, it’s the time for a concise, hard-hitting sales pitch.

Think of it as the difference between a television commercial and a technical manual: you may actually want to look at the specs before you buy … but it’s that 30-second spot that piques your interest and make you want to dig deeper. Your resume should be more like the TV ad.

The work history on your resume should feature two or three key jobs that evidence your progress within your given field. Present your experience in a reverse-chronological order, with the most recently held position containing the most bullet points and older job positions containing only a few summary bullet points.

Cut to the Chase

When writing bullet points for your job history, again focus on what the recruiter or HR expert wants to see. Make every sentence count–don’t waste valuable real estate on your resume listing basic responsibilities that someone in your position would already be expected to perform, or communal tasks like keeping the kitchen tidy.

The two things you want to emphasize here are a history of progress within your field, and quantified achievements to support the idea that you excel at your job. Bullet points are best, and keep them concise. Again, there will be time for details later.

Qualify and Quantify

In this day and age, even our “smart” technology is becoming context-aware. Why should your resume be any different? Providing a context to quantify your experience helps give the reader an accurate understanding of the scope of your achievements. Talk briefly about past employers, summarizing key details that paint a picture of the companies’ size and scale. Use hard numbers to demonstrate how you met/beat sales targets, how you increased production, or the size of the team you lead.

Putting your work into context gives the reader a greater understanding of who you are and what you’re capable of accomplishing. Successfully engaging the reader is the crucial first step in getting called for an interview.

Obviously, there’s more to landing your dream job than simply targeting your resume … but a highly targeted piece will certainly have a positive impact. You want to make sure that the first set of eyes on your resume can clearly see your experience and achievements. And since very few people actually take the time to do this, targeting your resume can quickly put you head-and-shoulders about the crowd.

  • -

Keeping On-task when You’re Not on a Schedule

For many people, one of the hardest aspects of being unemployed is staying focused. Despite our increasingly gig-oriented environment, society consistently trains us to respond to a 9-to-5, time clock mentality. When that suddenly isn’t present, unemployed persons often find them struggling to be productive.

It almost sounds like a contradiction: with so much free time, we should be able to get MORE done–a lot more. So why do we find ourselves struggling to get anything done at all?

Finding Your Motivation

A regular job is often enough to keep us at least functionally motivated: we want the paycheck, we don’t want to be fired, we don’t want our colleagues thinking less of us. It’s not really a good type of motivation, but it works…so when it isn’t there, we truly have to reorient our thinking in order to accomplish anything. Being productive basically comes down to the way a person manages the multitude of small choices that have to be made every day.

Do you get up and dressed every morning, as if you still had a job to go to? Or are you binging on Netflix and playing Candy Crush until all hours? Are you eating regular food on a regular schedule, or noshing on Cheetos and Dr. Pepper for breakfast? Some of the choices are obvious. Some, however, are less cut-and-dried: should go to the networking event or work on your resume? Everything you do presents an opportunity … but it also has a cost.

Focus a Lot, for Just a Little While

It’s not just about putting in the time; it’s also about putting time in the right places.

Again, when we have a job that works on certain hours and deadlines, we at least have some idea of what needs to happen when. Outside of that structure, it’s sometimes hard to find.

Mikael Cho, Founder/CEO of Unsplash, wrote about this very thing in a Quora post:

I used to set aside full days for focused work. The problem was because I had all day, I would relax. This often led to procrastination. Now I use a timer to clock my 1- or 1.5-hour work sessions. If you feel like you have lots of time to do something, you’ll find ways to fill that time. Often by doing easier, less important things. By shortening the time frame, you’re forced to focus.

Cho goes on to tell how researchers at Florida State University looked at elite performers and found the best performers practiced in uninterrupted, 90-minute sessions, rarely working more than four and a half hours in a day. That doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but if it’s all highly focused, you might be amazed at what can accomplish.

Mimic Successful People

Working without a schedule is not only possible, but it can be profitable. Most successful entrepreneurs and award-winning business people work “off the clock” and accomplish great things. Each has his or her own set of rules for staying focused, but we’ve found that all of the best advice can be narrowed down to some overarching rules: Remove the unnecessary. Automate decisions. Maintain good health.

As Cho points out, it may seem boring…but boring is how you clear space to do your best work.

  • -

5 Things You Should Never Bring to a Job Interview

There’s an anecdote about the late actress Shelley Winters that relates to job interviews. As the story goes, it took place late in her very remarkable career, when her agent sent her to meet a casting agent who was demanding an audition–a move she felt (with some justification) was beneath her.

She goes down to see the agent, walks in, sits down, but doesn’t say a word. She reaches into her handbag, pulls out her first Academy Award, thunks it down on his desk. Silence. She gives it a beat, reaches back into her bag, pulls out her second Oscar, plunks it down on his desk. Dramatic pause. Finally, she says, “Y’know, some people think I can act.”

Job interviews can feel like that, particularly if you’ve already had a fairly successful career to date. Even under the best conditions, you’re essentially going up to a stranger and saying, “Honest, I can do a lot for your company–please hire me!” It can feel like begging, and if you’re fresh out of college, that is to be expected. Ten or 15 years in the work force, however, and there’s this feeling that you’ve already paid your dues–that you shouldn’t have to go through this again.

It’s an understandable feeling, which evokes a simple, three-word response: Get over it.

If you’re in the market for a job, this is part of the process. And not only do you have to go through the “audition” process, you might even need a refresher course on how to do that. Most job candidates know to bring at least two copies of a resume plus a list of references, but there are also a few things job hunters need to leave at home:

  1. Clutter. It’s hard to leave a graceful first impression if you’re trying to shake hands while juggling a briefcase, portfolio, purse, what-have you. The ideal is to walk into the interview carrying only a portfolio or folder with your resume and references. Depending on the job, you may need samples of your work, but as much as possible, consolidate everything into a single, easy-to-handle package.
  2. Computer. Again, depending on the job you’re going for, you may need show samples of your work or some other evidence of a successful project. However, we are in the internet age, so practically everything can be shown in a digital format. Having said that–laptops can still be cumbersome and awkward to handle. Consider investing in a tablet that is simple to access but still large enough to display your work.
  3. Cell. This one is tricky. For most of us, a cellphone does double-duty as an address book–crucial when filling out applications. At the same time, interrupting the process to answer the phone–or even turn it off–looks highly unprofessional. But what if there is an emergency? Sure, there are some 90 million iPhones in the US, but c’mon–we managed without cell phones (or any phones at all) for centuries. The call can wait 20 minutes. If you have to bring it in, make sure it’s turned off before you ever leave the lobby.
  4. Coffee. We admit it: we’re a nation addicted to the magic bean. But again, we’re going for graceful here, and trying to hold a hot cup and a portfolio in one hand while you’re trying shake with the other: awkward. And if you spill it? Ugh. And while we’re on the subject, don’t bring in coffee for the interviewer, either: it might sound like a nice gesture, but this, too, can prove awkward. It’s a bit too familiar and a little unprofessional. Impress them with your shining personality instead.
  5. Crap. Pardon the indelicate phrasing there, but seriously: the hiring process is hard enough without you showing up with a crappy attitude. Come across as smug, entitled, or self-righteous in the interview, and you’re telling the hirer you’ll be a pain to work with. Whatever your situation, into the interview with a chip on your shoulder will only sabotage your chances of walking out with a job in your pocket. Leave the attitude at home.

Job interviews are anxiety magnets. The best way to think about it is, the better your performance in this interview, the better your odds of not having to do another one.

  • -

Do Networking Events Work?

If you’re in search of a new position, you have to network, period. You can’t get around that. So if you’re going to network, it makes sense to attend networking events, right? If you’re going to network–and particularly if you’re not all that comfortable with it–it only makes sense to go a place where everyone ELSE is networking too, right? More bang for the buck …

Well, maybe.

Don’t get me wrong: doing the rounds at a networking event is better than not networking at all. But they’re not necessarily a good fit for everyone. Sure, you’re making connections … but are you really building relationships? Because that is the real goal of networking: turning encounters into mutually beneficial relationships for sharing expertise and increasing referrals. And networking events aren’t necessarily the ideal environment for that.

For one thing, they tend to be a bit chaotic. They’re not like, say, a job fair, where the people you need to talk to are set up in a fixed location, and you can pick and choose who you want to talk to based on your needs. Job fairs are great for that.

Networking events, however, are more like giant pinball machines, where you randomly bounce from one person to the next and hope you don’t get caught in a trap. What kind of trap? Well, many if not most networking events are populated with two types of people: those looking a job (like you–in other words, competition), and founders and small business owners who are there to … well, to network. They’re not looking for employees so much as trade partners.

Of course, there are also the folks simply there to sell you something, but I don’t even count those.

The odds of a person finding a job in that kind of loud, chaotic madhouse are slim. Which, again, is not to say they are useless: you will be able to pass out business cards to people who may pass them along to others, and eventually the right card may end up in the hands of someone looking to hire.

It’s better than nothing. But if you’re in “failure is not an option” mode, it’s a far cry from efficient.

Networking events are built around quantity: get everyone in one place, you dramatically increase the odds of making a connection. But there’s also something to be said for quality, like connecting with the right person. Personally, I’ve had much better luck building relationships over coffee than over a loudspeaker–which is about what you have to use to get heard in a big event.

Making valuable connections is important. But for job-seekers, networking mixers aren’t necessarily the best approach. Try distinguishing yourself in the market, first: deliver something of value, even if it is as simple as an informative post that offers information in your industry. Create a demand for your time and talents, so that people have some idea why they should care about connecting with you.

Networking events serve a purpose, but they haven’t worked for me, or at least not as well as other methods. Don’t completely write them off, but don’t default to going to networking events just because they’re there. Think carefully about the tradeoffs, and decide if it’s worth it.

  • -

What Is Networking, and How Can It Help?

This is a networking site. That’s why it exists. Yet it’s surprising how many comments and emails we get with people uncomfortably admitting they don’t really understand what networking is. And really, that’s understandable … no business school out there, to my knowledge, teaches a class in Networking 101. Academia doesn’t really teach networking: for one thing, academia is its own network, by default.

Plus, if they’re teaching you, that means they already HAVE jobs. So networking often isn’t even on their radar.

The thing is, though, networking exists for more than just the job search. Oh, it can be used for that–in fact, networking is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your job-hunting toolbox. But it’s a significantly more useful tool if you don’t wait until you’re out of a job to use it.

At its core, networking is about connecting, building ties between people, believing that shared knowledge works to everyone’s benefit. Which sounds great on paper, I know … it’s not that easy in real life–if for no other reason than the fact that the payoff usually isn’t immediate. Networking is the art of fostering and nurturing two-way relationships that will serve both parties; that doesn’t mean the first time you talk with someone, it will change your life … but there does need to be a first time. And that’s where people get stuck.

Networking: It Isn’t Just for Job-hunters

As mentioned, many people don’t even consider networking until they need to find a job–and even more stop networking the moment they find one. The immediate problem with this is that it tends to limit the number of and types of contacts in your network.

You might say “Yeah–isn’t that the point?” Well, in the long-term, no. But even in the short-term, the broader your network is, the more potential opportunities you’re exposed to. When people job hunt, they tend to look for positions similar to the last one they held. But in this day and age, new technologies are changing the employment landscape on a daily basis. There may be a position out there that’s a better fit, in a company or even an industry that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

So the fact is, even if you’re only networking to find a job, job leads can come from just about anywhere: sticking to your comfort zone is usually a mistake.

Networking Through Your Fear

Not everyone is an extrovert. And sometimes trying to make a new contact can be as anxiety-ridden as the first time you ask someone for a date. Fact it: nobody likes rejection.

But really, there’s no need to start accosting strangers. In fact, you probably already have a larger network than you realize, once you start adding up contacts: there are relatives, friends, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends. There are all the people your spouse/significant other knows, and people you interact with through your kids, like teachers and other parents.

There are people you work with, people you used to work with, and people you’d like to work with some day. People you’ve met through professional organizations, and those you know from more social groups, like clubs or church. There’s the barista where you buy coffee, the plumber that installed your dishwasher, the stylist who cuts your hair. It could even include people you communicate with on social media but have never met face-to-face!

Networking for Life

The point is, building a network isn’t just about meeting strangers. Sometimes all it takes is getting to know the people you already kind of know. In most case, those people will end up introducing you to people they know–and being introduced to someone by a mutual friend is much easier than “cold-calling” strangers. And if you have a skillset you’re willing to share (like this entrepreneur), people may end up coming to you.

Is it still scary? Sure. But people can learn to move beyond that fear, cultivating their contact list even while staying relatively uncomfortable with the process themselves. A lot of them never get beyond that stage, and as soon as a new job offer comes in, those networking skills go right back into the closet until next time.

The ones who don’t do that, though–the ones who push themselves past their normal tendencies and continue to develop those relationships–these are the people who reap the full benefits of the network. They are the ones who understand that networking isn’t a hit-or-miss proposition: the process–and the rewards–go on indefinitely.