Friday, May 15, 2009

When I Network I Feel: Dirty, Desperate or Discouraged?

An article on MediaBistro(create a free MediaBistro account to read the article in its entirety) last week asked the following question:

I wish more people thought of me as:
a) Aggressive
b) Obnoxious
c) Annoying
d) Pathetic
e) Slimy
f) A name-dropper

This pop quiz is useful, because it explains why so many people, especially students and recent alumni who are entering the job market for the first time, cringe when they think about "networking." It can feel slimy, irritating and sometimes desperate to actively be seeking out individuals to talk to, in the hopes that they will help you land a job.

We talk about networking A LOT on the CAPS Blog, and with good reason - there is no way around it, you must network to find job leads, especially in this tough job market.

Some of our favorite points that this most recent article made, include:

"This is my mantra: Stop looking for a job and start looking for a person. The right person will lead you to the right job. This applies whether you're looking for a job or just personal and professional connections in general..." That's the thing with networking - it's about making personal connections. So even if your roommate's brother's girlfriend works in an industry that does not at all relate to your interests, she might have a friend, cousin, neighbor who does. The point being, don't discount the people you meet - they might have an insider connection that will help you out.

Also good advice - Be specific: "Don't tell people 'I'll do anything' or 'I'm interested in everything.' They can't help you without specific guidelines about what you want. You are not being flexible; you are being naïve. I'm willing to talk to you and open my Rolodex but I need parameters: specific jobs, industries, geographical areas. Help me help you!" This doesn't mean you need to know EXACTLY what you're looking for or EXACTLY what type of job you want - but it helps to provide a little bit of background information. For example, "Wow, I didn't realize you were a biology major in undergrad. I'm actually graduating with a degree in biology this spring, and I'd like to use my degree at work. Do you have any suggestions of organizations I could look into?" Simple, right?

Our favorite piece of advice from MediaBistro? Use your career services office: "These offices and associations range from the highly structured to informal or nonexistent; private institutions in particular place great emphasis on maintaining these kind of networks. You can call up the alumni association, career or magazine office, explain that you're interested in talking with alumni in your industry or area, and see what they come up with. Some schools have online databases or alumni magazines, some with "class notes" sections. Read these to find names of like-minded alumni and find out if they're willing to be contacted and what their preferred mode of communication is. Your class may have regional officers or representatives; reach out to them. The people who volunteer to serve in these roles are generally connectors. Attend local gatherings or reunion events." The good news - the University of Chicago DOES have an on-line database of like-minded alumni who are willing to serve as career contacts for students and fellow alums. It's called the Alumni Careers Network, and to log on, click here.

Sick of hearing about the importance of networking? Tell us about it - and post your comments, suggestions and ideas here.

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