Most of us get as excited about networking as we do about a root canal. But the thing is, it’s a pretty big deal.
There’s a not-so-secret secret to job hunting that a lot of people like to ignore: when it comes to your career, “pull” is just as important, if not more important, than “push.” In other words, who you know can be more important than what you know when you’re trying to land the position of your dreams.
I know this because my “pull” made all the difference when I was applying for my current position as a patent agent.
You see, on paper, I had the baseline qualifications for someone hoping to be a patent agent…but that was it. I was extremely young and inexperienced, and my resume reflected that. So, on paper, I was essentially the PB&J of job candidates: solid, but not a sandwich that’ll make people go nuts (especially when you compared me to, say, a Nutella Marshmallow Fluff sandwich, who has ten extra degrees and five years of experience).
But I got the job anyway because I had one major advantage over the competition: I knew someone at my company who referred me for the position. While my education and experience certainly were important, I am positive that had it not been for my network, there would be some Nutella Fluff sitting at my desk today.
Of course, there is no one “right” way to network—but there definitely are some ineffective ways. So when it comes to something as important as your “pull,” you owe it to yourself to be as effective as possible, which means not making the following mistakes.
YOU ONLY NETWORK WHEN YOU NEED SOMETHING
The best—and simplest—networking advice I’ve heard is to remember that your network consists of real, live people. And as a real, live person yourself, how would you feel if the first thing a new acquaintance did was ask you for something? There’s a reason telemarketers get such a bad rap.
I was the PB&J of job candidates: solid, but not a sandwich that’ll make people go nuts (especially when you compared me to, say, a Nutella Marshmallow Fluff sandwich, who has ten extra degrees and five years of experience).
It’s important to begin networking long before you start your job search and to build those critical relationships without asking for a job in return. That way, when it is time to reach out for help, you’ll have a network of solid relationships to lean on.
YOU MAKE JOB SEEKING THE ONLY FOCUS
Sure, networking is a great tool for job seekers, but remember that your professional network isn’t only a collection of potential referrals.
For example, I first contacted the woman who eventually referred me for my current position in order to ask her for an informational interview. Specifically, I reached out to her when I was first starting out so that I could learn more about the field and to just get some objective advice. Sure, our relationship eventually led to an awesome opportunity, but that wasn’t what it was built on. Our connection was first and foremost based on our mentor/mentee relationship, which meant that it was infinitely stronger than if I had first reached out to her when I wanted a job.
Like the point above, it’s important to remember that your network is made up of people and that your relationships with those people can (and often should) be based on things other than simply job seeking. Whether you’re asking for career advice or you’re helping someone else out with her career, the variety of relationships that make up your network will only make it stronger.
YOU FORGET THE PROFESSIONAL NETWORK YOU’VE ALREADY BUILT
Going back to the woman who referred me for my current position, I met her through a mutual friend. You see, the first thing I did when I decided I wanted a career in patent law was to reach out to everyone I already knew to ask if they knew of anyone in the field.
Although it’s fine to reach out to people you don’t know, you’ll only be doing yourself a favor if you also reach out to the network you already have. While there’s still no guarantee that a friend’s friend will be willing to talk to you, most people are a lot more likely to connect with someone who they know is definitely not a telemarketing ax killer.
YOU ARE AFRAID TO SEND THE FOLLOW-UP EMAIL
Once you’ve established a relationship with someone, make sure to keep the relationship alive. I mean, what good is potting a daisy if you then put it in your pantry next to your stale Cheerios from 2006? For the relationship or the daisy to be useful, you have to nurture it so it stays alive.
While it’s important to avoid being annoying (i.e., don’t email your contacts every other week), it’s also important to keep in touch. It can be as simple as an email to update your contact on your career or to ask your contact how her career is going. As long as you’re genuine, a simple email every few months can make a world of difference.
But finally, what’s the biggest mistake you can possibly make when it comes to networking? You don’t do it at all. So get out there and get connecting! We promise it’ll be worth it.
This post originated on www.careercontessa.com.