The Art (and Science) of Face-to-Face Networking

No matter how popular and how easy it is to apply for jobs online or to network using LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media channels, the vast majority of people still find jobs the old-fashioned way: by talking to people they know and making face-to-face connections to people who can hire them. Networking from referrals, casual contacts and professional associations still beats online networking. Face-to-face offers the opportunity to move deeper and faster with your contacts.

Don’t believe it? Just ask Dr. Srini Pillay, the CEO of the leadership coaching firm, NeuroBusiness Group. The advantages of face-to-face networking have been proven through recent brain-imaging research. He says, “Seeing the face of someone helps the brain detect and understand who they are and what they feel.” As a result, he says, “We are more likely to feel ‘known’ when we are facing someone than speaking to them by telephone.”

What is networking?

Networking is nothing more than talking to people and following up with an email, phone call or thank-you note. When you’re looking for a job, talk to people who can give you ideas, leads, suggestions, and referrals. Not everyone you talk to will have real job leads, but everyone you connect with can refer you to one, two or more people, and the cycle goes on. Your goal is to build a knowledge-and-support system that will eventually lead you to the right person at the right time.

What should you tell your contacts?

What you say and how you say it is important. You will need to prepare and practice your message so that it is clear and concise and lets people know how they can help you.

Create an elevator pitch. Keep it under sixty seconds. Any longer than that and you risk losing the interest of your audience at this early stage in the conversation.

Give your listeners just enough information so they understand what kind of work you do, what you’re really good at, and what kind of companies and opportunities you’re interested in.

Be sure you are specific when telling your contact what you need. Are you looking for an introduction at a specific company? Do you need some industry information? Do you want to tap into an alumni group or nonprofit organization? Be specific so your listeners will understand how they can help you.

Finally, don’t make it all about you. Be interested and thoughtful throughout your conversations and express sincere interest when your contacts tell you about themselves.

Follow up on every lead.

If your contacts have been helpful enough to give you some names and phone numbers, be certain that you follow up quickly and professionally, even if at heart you don’t think the referrals have much value. For one thing, you never know — perhaps your contact’s cousin has an “in” with your target company. For another, it’s good etiquette, and you’ll be able to go back to your contact for more help only if you’ve done as he or she suggested.

Get organized.

If a contact asks for more information, you’ll want to have your resume ready for emailing, mailing or handing out. Business cards with your contact information are easy for you to carry and easy for contacts to take with them.

Networking involves lots of names, phone numbers, and cross-connections. Set up a good system so you can accurately track how you got someone’s name and how that person is connected to others in your network. Take notes every time you talk with someone, and schedule your follow-up activities on your calendar so you don’t forget.

Keep your contacts in the loop.

Periodically, send a brief status email to your network. At that point you might be able to ask for more help with a new, specific request. As long as you are polite, professional, and never ask for something your contacts can’t provide (like a job), your phone calls and emails will be welcomed.

Let people help you.

A lot of job seekers are hesitant to reach out to their network and, beyond that, to strangers they’re referred to. For some reason, it’s much easier to give help than to ask for it! Understandably, you don’t want to be a bother. But put yourself in your contact’s shoes. Wouldn’t you be willing to spend a few minutes trying to help a friend or the friend of a friend? Don’t you get a lot of pleasure from helping others? It’s best to get over your reluctance and open yourself up to the help that others want to give. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by how helpful and generous people are – whether your own friends and colleagues or people you don’t even know. This discovery is one of the true joys of networking – and once you experience it, you will certainly be a helpful network contact for your friends as soon as you land your next job.

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