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Professional Networking - Is It 'Over-Hyped' Or Really That Valuable?

I don’t think the importance of networking can ever be overstated. I say this from the perspective of someone who used to find networking so intimidating that I would practice what to say at networking events in front of a mirror for years. It may be difficult for most who know me personally today to believe this, but I resisted networking actively for much of my early career due to awkwardness and insecurity.

Despite my professors and advisors in university ferociously emphasizing that it is through networking and connections that most people get jobs, especially the good jobs, I still I thought I could get around it. I had always relied on my sheer effort and work ethic to get ahead. I always did my homework, I studied hard, I would finish my papers and projects days or weeks in advance so I could spend time fine-tuning my work until it was absolutely perfect. So I convinced myself that my stellar resume and cover letter, along with my superior abilities and knowledge, would get me that job that would just drop me off right into the perfect career path.

But we all know it’s not just what you know, but who you know and how badly you want it.

Your work and abilities are only one component of a successful career. A large part of success in the business world really is developing relationships with people over months, years and decades – be it with your colleagues, recruiters, former classmates or even neighbors.

As a recruiter, I can certainly tell you that the real way to land your perfect job or awesome career is through tapping into the much talked about “hidden job market.” By now, you have all heard the statistics, 70 to 80 percent of jobs are never advertised. Well in my experience this is completely true. This is NOT an exaggeration. Most of the positions I work are never posted. Instead, my clients contract with me to go out and find the right people for their company. And let’s all agree that in today’s marketplace, talent IS what differentiates an organization from its competitors. Employers and professionals waiting for the right talent or job to come to them are being left in the last millennium.

But networking just feels so… fake?

Over the last decade, I have come to love networking with others. I enjoy the interaction, learning about what people do and what drives them. Instead of focusing on the trivialness of discussions about the weather or having to feign interest in something or someone purely for the sake of conversation or appearance, I look at such opportunities as a chance to learn. And to not only learn about what that person does for a living or about their company and products or services, but about what ever mutual is bringing us together – be it an industry, a conference, common acquaintance or a similar situation.

For example, unemployed professionals are often encouraged to join networking groups that meet on a regular basis with others who are either unemployed or looking for better or new opportunities. Each connection made in such a group could potentially lead you to that desired job/career. Just because the person or people you are networking with may not be directly involved in hiring people or know of an immediate opening, does not mean they aren’t valuable in your networking process.

Effective networkers will value each connection as it is the network, not the single connection, that will grow and bring you opportunity.

So how do you go from timid and unsure to a master networker? Try the below tips and tricks to help you jump on the networking bandwagon.

Start small – instead of doing a belly jump into a pool spraying water everywhere and smarting your front side – ease into networking one foot at a time. Don’t attend the biggest conference in your industry expecting to suddenly be able to chat up everyone in the room. Begin in a familiar environment and branch out from there.

Be friendly – Smile, make eye contact, and be aware of posture. Don’t expect people to approach you if you stand alone, with your arms-crossed and a scowl on your face.

Say the person’s name – I always repeat a person’s name at least twice when I meet someone. When someone is introduced, I will say, ‘nice to meet you, [insert name]’. And then again at the end of the conversation, ‘I enjoyed speaking with you, [insert name].” I do this for two reasons. One, it helps me remember their name and two, people like to hear their own name. It makes them feel good and people like to feel good about themselves.

Have realistic expectations – Networking to advance your career is a slow process. The first person you talk with will not likely have an open position they are filling or know about at the exact time you meet them. But, by developing your network over the course of time, people’s roles change, they change companies, they get promoted and they meet other people. As this happens, their network and in turn, your network grows and the chance of an opportunity suited for your skill set also grows.

Maintain relationships – Networking is not being introduced to people and handing them your business card. Keep in contact with the people you meet through phone calls, emails, texts and social media. For the most valuable connections – make a schedule of when you will touch base with them and set up reminders.

What are your networking secrets? What advice do you give those who struggle with it?

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