Everybody knows how important networking is for your career, right? Well, most people may intellectually KNOW that they should be networking, but I am continually amazed that so many refuse to actually do it. And these are smart people. They just happen to be smart people who loathe the idea of walking into a room full of strangers with nothing but a name badge and a nervous smile.
But in today’s job market, networking is not just important. It’s critical. There is more competition for every opening and you need more than a great resume. It’s not enough to spend your days stalking the job boards (in fact, it’s a quick way to lose your mind if you don’t step away and talk to real humans once in a while).
So why are so many job searchers still stubbornly avoiding networking? I got a new sense of the level of resistance out there at a recent event for job hunters at The New York Public Library. I conducted several 20-minute “speed career coaching” sessions over the course of the day and spoke with people at many different career stages — from recent grads to seasoned industry vets.
They all had one thing in common — all said that they knew they should be networking more, but just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. They all needed to step up their networking games. And I hope they all will take my advice to step out of their comfort zones and start connecting and reconnecting.
Obviously, I’m not the only one telling them that networking is important. I recently saw a study that quantified the value of a strong professional network. According to research by Pepperdine University and Upwardly Mobile Inc., 70% of executives credit networking for their current jobs (compared to just 16% who credit job listings). And most aren’t even networking well — 75% said that they spend fewer than two hours per week on networking and focus on the wrong things.
So how can you become a better networker? Upwardly Mobile, the company behind the study cited above, has actually developed a nifty little web-based tool to help you. UpMo.com is currently in beta and I recently had the opportunity to test it out so I can give you the scoop.
You start out with a free Network Profiler assessment tool. After answering a series of questions, you’ll get a customized report that outlines how you’re doing as a networker, based on UpMo’s research on the habits of highly effective networkers. Your results will also identify the style of networking that you’re most comfortable with and suggest an UpModel, one of their superstar networkers that you can emulate.
My assessment results felt pretty right-on. I’m good at keeping in touch with close contacts and at staying informed about my industry. I’m not so great at meeting new people. So UpMo has assigned me a to-do list and a series of suggested tasks to help me improve in this area.
UpMo also informs me that my networking style is “Give First.” They describe my approach as: “I feel that helping others is the best way to build goodwill and respect within my network.” That’s also pretty accurate. I am much more likely to reach out or reconnect when I have information or resources to share.
Based on my profile and preferred approach, UpMo created a dashboard of tools that includes an action plan with tasks to prioritize and check off (all of you Type As will love this part). For example, this week I am supposed to be focusing on identifying new contacts that I’d like to meet and researching them so I can avoid asking stupid questions and making a bad first impression.
From my test drive, I think UpMo is worth checking out — especially if you are networking-averse. There is great value in just having a structured set of tasks so you can focus your efforts. You can start with easy tasks like organizing your contact lists and fine-tuning your professional bio. Then you can gradually step further outside of your comfort zone. I know I’m going to stick with it to see if UpMo can help me meet more new people in a way that doesn’t feel awkward or cheesey.
Because I can certainly relate to those who hate networking or feel they aren’t good at it. During my corporate days, I avoided networking events like the plague and just focused on relationships with the people I already knew or met through my daily routine.
But once I became an entrepreneur, I was forced to change my attitude. You can’t grow a business without networking. I was hooked once I started meeting interesting people and seeing how my life improved as a result of their advice, ideas, and good company. Networking still doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have learned to love it because of the wonderful friendships and career benefits that have come about because I put on a name tag (either virtual or adhesive-backed) and stepped out of my comfort zone.
While we’re on the subject, here are some more networking resources for those who need a networking push:
LinkedIn.com — If you are not on LinkedIn yet, you are truly missing out. Facebook is fun and can be a great networking tool, but LinkedIn is where you’re more likely to find your ex-bosses and the most interesting job listings. It’s easy and free to join. And who knows? Maybe that drinking buddy from three jobs ago will be able to refer you for an opening that hasn’t even hit the job boards yet.
I’m On LinkedIn, Now What? — Overwhelmed by all of the features and profiles on LinkedIn? This book by Scott Allen and Jason Alba will help you make the most of your LinkedIn membership.
Smart Networking — Liz Lynch is a networking guru. Check out her book and her blog for lots of great networking tips.