We talk a lot about growing your network; it’s one of the most important things you can do to speed up your job search. But it can be hard to decide how to expand – who you should meet and get to know. I’ve heard jobseekers say: “All my friends are in the same industry; many have concerns about their own jobs. I’m not sure my network is going to help me, much as they’d like to.”
And they might be right. Many of us only bother to stay in touch with people we see at work or at activities surrounding family and faith. Your network may be limited because you have not made meeting new people a priority. Networking is something you should be consciously practicing every day, not just when you suddenly need it to find a job. Being out of work makes meeting people harder, both literally, because you may not be getting out as much, and psychically because you’re less confident when you’re unemployed.
Donna Fisher, author of Power Networking, says that there are two ways to expand your network: one is to meet new people, of course. The other is to get to really know those you are already acquainted with. Fisher says, “The mistake we sometimes make is to think we already know people rather than taking the time to get to know them better.” Snap quiz: what does your Cub Scout leader’s spouse do for a living? Where did your neighbor’s son intern last summer? Where is your former assistant working now?
Fisher suggests inviting some of the people you know out (or in) for coffee or lunch to get to know them better. She highly recommends it as a way to deepen your relationships. It’s not a two-way street; your purpose is to listen, learn and connect with the other person. Fisher suggests you start with the five most connected people you know (although I suggest that you might want to practice with people you feel more comfortable with first.) Fisher’s plan is to list the five most connected people you know, along with the following information about each:
- How can I be a valuable resource for this person?
- How can this person be a valuable resource for me?
- What will I do to strengthen this relationship?
Here’s what that might look like. Say that you’ve met a new neighbor in passing. She’s been in the neighborhood a few weeks, and you know that she’s a successful business person who’s been transferred here to take an important job in her company. Being out of work is a great excuse to extend an invitation. “I find I have more time now to get to know my neighbors better. Would you like to come over for a cup of coffee?”
Ask her how she’s doing in her new city and home. Is there anything she’s been trying to find here – a good dry cleaner, flower shop or local farmer’s market? How is her family settling in? Listen and offer help where you can. Deepening relationships when you have time to invest in people (and making time for it even when you’re busy) means that you have more resources willing to help you down the road.
Be sure to thank the person for taking the time to meet with you, and to follow up on any advice or help you’ve offered. Fisher reminds us that people do business with people they like and trust. In this fast-paced world of technology connections, they also appreciate the chance to develop personal connections.