The new way to network

Make lasting, meaningful connections. Write follow-up notes. Don’t let them forget you.

Seems innocent enough – at a networking function you nonchalantly mention that you’re looking for a job.

Even if it’s true, don’t say it! Career coach Anna Graham Hunter of Los Angeles insists that “I’m looking for a job” are five of the worst combined words you can say out loud when you’re networking.

“Hiring managers want to hire people who already have a job. In their eyes, you become less attractive when you say that you don’t have a job,” she notes. And it creates an awkward situation.

The nature of face-to-face networking has changed in recent years with an emphasis placed on how employees strengthen a relationship instead of how they can benefit from one.

Blatantly announcing that you’re looking for a job also makes you less attractive to yourself, Graham Hunter adds, because those five words sound sad.

Don’t be misleading or deceptive, but reframe your position. Think of yourself as someone who is looking for the right job and the right match.

“Be deliberate rather than desperate and more people will want to talk to you,” Graham Hunter adds.

By being more positive, you also avoid confusing suggestions. Instead, focus on building relationships that might feel unfamiliar.

“Pursue people who interest you and who seem like they’re doing interesting things. If you’re in the corporate world, make dates with people who work in the nonprofit sector, and vice versa,” Graham Hunter says.

This broad base of people to call on for advice and support will serve you well.

Other tips from career coaches:

• Make meaningful connections. Pamela J. Green, a management consultant in Washington, D.C. and founder of Power Project Institute, says professionals have less time to physically get away for networking. People are finding ways to network wherever they go: the grocery store, the dry cleaners, their children’s school, etc. When they do connect, they want the connection to be meaningful. Avoid obvious small talk, such as “how's the weather?”

• Take a genuine interest in others. Hank Boyer, executive coach and president of Boyer Management Group in Philadelphia, says networking is not something you do when you need to get a job or attract new customers. Networking is a lifestyle discipline that should be started by the time you graduate high school. In its simplest terms, networking is about starting out as strangers and ultimately winding up as casual friends. You make friends by focusing on others rather than trying to garner interest in yourself. The easiest way to get to know someone is to ask them questions about their favorite topic: themselves. People can tell whether you are really listening by your focus on them versus on your surroundings. Listening involves a pleasant level of eye contact, a warm expression with a slight smile and periodic verbal and non-verbal cues that you were listening.

• Exchange real information. Julienne Ryan, a career coach and owner of the consultancy The Career Concierge in New York, says the advent of social media gives the assumption that a casual connection through a LinkedIn group entitles folks to carte blanche information or introductions. But basic networking rules still apply. Networking is a shared exchange of information. The asker should be prepared to offer something in return as a courtesy and a thank you. A simple follow-up note that says “this is what I learned or confirmed thanks to our conversation” is enough. And don’t waste time asking questions about something that could have been learned through research. Use the time to confirm or question a hypothesis.

• Make the time to connect in person. Stacia Pierce, a life coach and chief executive at Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises in Orlando, Fla., says that before the iPhone, LinkedIn, Twitter and e-mail, business contacts were made in person. Those face-to-face conversations are still crucial. Thus, you should create networking goals each week or month, like handing out five business cards each week. Ask your LinkedIn connections out for a drink or coffee to put faces to names when you need a favor. Use the phone if you can't meet in person. A conversation is a more personal way to get to know a contact than by talking via Twitter. To avoid awkward moments, create a list of general topics to talk about.

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