(This article is part of a book called How to Find a Job, which now is available as an ebook on Kindle, nook, and Smashwords. All of the chapters have been revised, many have been expanded, and the book contains three bonus chapters (including Negotiating) that are not available on this blog.)
The piece of advice people offered up from the moment I lost my job until the moment I found full-time work was “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know.”
Of course, this is one of those cliché statements you get to hear all the time whether you’re looking for work or not. On the other hand, the reason it’s a cliché is because it’s true a significant percentage of the time.
The word “networking,” to me, always felt kind of painful and awkward. It doesn’t sound fun. It sounds like you’re going to be meeting a stranger (or a group of strangers) and you’re going to spend a painful 20 minutes or an hour or two hours sizing each other up.
It doesn’t sound enjoyable.
The thing of it is, networking does not have to be painful, and you can approach it in any number of different ways, depending on your comfort level.
For ease of use, let’s break these down by:
Large Networking Groups
Small Networking Groups
One-on-One/The Informational Interview
Large Networking Groups
I don’t know how common these were before the economy of the United States took a nose dive, but over the last three or four years more and more networking groups have sprouted up. At the Department of Workforce Development. At various churches. At universities and technical schools.
Really, pretty much anywhere a large group of people can be hosted.
And depending on who is running them, large networking meetings can be very useful. I attended a couple that brought in speakers on topics ranging from Unemployment Insurance to Résumé Tips to How to Handle Informational Interviews.
Additionally, when your world is sort of upside-down and you don’t have anywhere to be most days, networking meetings can be a huge boon. Much like a workplace, they give you somewhere to go that has familiar faces and people working towards a common goal. And as you get to know the people better, you’ll find yourself rooting for all your new friends to find work.
And they, in turn, will root for you. In fact, it’s kind of great when someone gets a job, just to see the spontaneous outpouring of emotion through cheers and clapping.
There are other opportunities in such meetings. People can practice interview questions. They can speed-network, which gives them a chance a practice their elevator speeches (more on that in a moment) and telling people what they do.
From what I can see, there are only two major drawbacks to networking groups.
First, there are rarely, if ever, people who can hire you there. You’re usually in there with ten or twenty or forty people who are in the exact same boat you are: Unemployed. And while the people there with you will hopefully remember you week by week, and maybe even find places you can apply, or people you can apply to, I saw few, if any, of these opportunities pan out for people.
I networked with two amazing groups of people. They were kind, generous, and seeing them every week was a great boon to me. But only a handful of them ever suggested job leads to me, and most of them were unfortunately not really in my scope of abilities.
The two or three jobs that would have been a good fit for me, I found on the same web sites they were hunting for work on.
By the same token, even after meeting with a lot of these people for months, my understanding of their abilities was also thin on the ground, and I’m about 99% sure that the job leads I passed on to my cohorts were things their either weren’t qualified for, or had already applied for.
The second problem I would occasionally see were people who were so focused on networking meetings that it was like they forgot they were supposed to be looking for work.
I almost fell into that trap once myself. I got a phone call about an interview, but it was going to fall directly in the path of my weekly networking meeting. I was just about to say that I would rather interview on a different day, when I realized that I was going to the networking meetings in hope of landing an interview, NOT the other way around.
I quickly cleared my throat and accepted the interview.
One woman took the networking thing to such a strange extreme that I started to suspect, and still suspect, that she had a major financial crisis that needed to be resolved. She told the entire group that she went to three networking meetings every week, was thinking about a fourth, and that she made it a goal to set up five informational interviews a week.
We were all blown away by this, until her story started to unravel. She was asked if she was meeting with people at different companies in the area. No, she was meeting with people who were already in her networking meetings, on a one-to-one basis.
To learn about an industry she was wanted to get into? No, she would meet with just about anybody, regardless of their industry. Of course, she was meeting with unemployed people, so, it wasn’t like they could hire her. Or, for the most part, recommend her for jobs within their company.
This was the same woman who eventually got a job, packed up her family, and moved them to another city two hours away. To take a job at a company that had, by her own admission, downsized 50% of its staff. Her job? To teach them how to do more with less.
I was not surprised when she was looking for work about a year later.
The point is, don’t let networking become your “job.” The pay is terrible, and the benefits are worse.
Small Networking Groups
I consider smaller networking groups to be an offshoot of larger networking groups, and I’ve only heard of them being used for one thing:
The fact of the matter is, it’s easy to get into a routine of not doing much, when you have no job. You get up a little later. Maybe look around on the internet for jobs, then get distracted and start watching YouTube instead.
Then it’s noon, so you make a sandwich and watch some TV. Then more TV. Then just one more episode. Then most of the day is shot, so you check the internet for job postings one last time and figure you’ll do some hardcore job searching the next day.
And so on.
While I rarely heard great things coming out of large networking groups, I did see a lot of good coming from small groups. Two different sets of four people broke out from a large networking group I was in and started meeting once a week.
Each week they set goals. How many phone calls to make? How many résumés to send? How many informational interviews to set up?
And if they didn’t do something, they had to admit it to someone.
Lo and behold, in the first group, all four of them found jobs within three months.
In the second group, I only learned the fate of one of the members – he had a job within four months.
Granted, it might have been a coincidence, or the economy might have been moving for the first time in about 18 months (One of the groups of four started with a different fourth member, who got a job about two weeks into their new group-hood). But saying you’re going to do something, and actually having to stick to it can be two different things.
So consider a small group.
The Informational Interview
While I adore the book “What Color is Your Parachute?” it did have one idea in it that always struck me as sort of bizarre, and a bit like magical thinking.
I’m going to paraphrase heavily what I read in the book, and I encourage you to read the book yourself and make up your own mind, but here’s how it came across to me.
Let’s say you want to get into chicken farming, but you don’t know anyone in the industry. You completely canvas the all your local chicken farms, and determine they don’t have any available positions.
So you use your contacts, and try to talk to one of the higher-ups about having an “Informational Interview.”
What’s that? Well, it’s a chance to have a 20-minute conversation about “the industry.”
And what is supposed to happen is this:
You’ve already done a bunch of research on chicken farming, so you come in (but only for 20 minutes, never for more or less time) and you ask pointed, serious questions.
The most important one is, “What are the challenges of your industry, and what do you think would fix them?”
This is key, because as the person in a hiring position starts talking about what’s wrong, and what it would take to fix it, you start providing answers.
And because you seem to have answers, the person across the desk hires you to fix said problems.
That’s right. You get a job that wasn’t there before because you have magically created a position that’s going to solve all the problems of this particular company. Even though you’ve only been in the building for about 20 minutes.
In all my time as a job seeker, I never once met anyone this tactic worked for.
I did have one friend who went to the president of the company where he already worked, and told the president that the company needed someone to do X, Y, and Z. The president, in turn, said, “Would you like to do this?” And then my friend had a new position.
But that’s the only time I’ve heard of something like that happening personally.
This is not to say that an informational meeting can’t be useful in and of itself. I knew a lot of people who were trying to figure out what they wanted to do next, and started meeting with people in an effort to learn about different industries in the area.
In some cases, I heard stories of résumés changing hands, and being walked to various offices, or brought to the top of a particular pile.
But beyond that? Nothing.
I suspect that an informational interview is works best if you recognize, up front, that information is all you’re going to get out of it.
To use a metaphor: In a lot of ways, an in interview is like a blind date. You know something about each other going in, you suspect you have similar interests, and you go in hoping that everything will be awesome and you’ll come out of the date with some kind of relationship.
You should not treat an informational interview the same way you treat an interview/date. Yes, there is a remote possibility you’ll come out the meeting with more than information, but going in with that hope will more than likely make the meeting awkward.
So don’t think of it as an informational interview. Think of it as an informational meeting.
Go in expecting to learn about an industry. Go in well-prepared. Ask questions you really want answers to. Take notes. Then, after 20 minutes it up, say thanks and leave. Then send a nice thank you note.
Could more come of it? Yes. But don’t get your hopes up. Be nice, be confident, and be well-informed.
But don’t expect a call.
The Elevator Speech
Another thing I heard constantly being emphasized during my networking gatherings was The Elevator Speech.
Here’s how it is supposed to work:
You get into an elevator with someone, and you have 30 seconds to tell them who you are, what you do, and what kind of job you’d like to have. This, in turn, allows the other person in the elevator to say, “Hey, I know a company that needs you!”
In reality, I rarely, if ever, used my elevator speech outside of networking meetings. This had to do with the general awkwardness of the speech itself. There’s no good way to launch into an explanation of what you do unless you warn the person you’re talking to that you’re ABOUT to tear into your elevator speech.
All that said, people liked my speech a great deal, so here it is. I’ll follow it with a breakdown of how to make your own, and the rules that go with making one.
“Hi, my name is Joshua Patterson, and I am a writer who enjoys using words to educate and entertain. In the course of my career, I’ve been a technical writer and a communications specialist, and I’ve done everything from journalism, to PR, to newsletter creation, to writing industrial videos, and I have worked as a professional blogger and social media expert. I also have written three independent films which have been in 29 film festival all over the world and won 13 awards. I’m looking for a position that will allow me to use both my writing and my creative abilities.”
Talking at a reasonable pace, if you read that out loud it comes out to roughly 28 seconds.
Talk fast and you can get it to just above twenty. Talk slowly to a large crowd, and it’s maybe 31 or 32.
All that said, I knew people who spent days (so they said) trying to get their elevator speech down to 30 seconds, and many of them struggled to get it under a minute.
I worked on mine for maybe an hour, and I never wrote the whole thing down until I typed it just now. Generally, if knew I was about to give the speech, I’d jot down a couple of “what I’ve done” notes that were dependant on who I was talking to.
When people asked me how I did it, here’s what I told them.
To begin, get your name and your job title into that first sentence. That’s what people will cling to. It helps if you sound enthusiastic.
In my case, I said: “Hi, my name is Joshua Patterson, and I am a writer who enjoys using words to educate and entertain.”
So if you used to sell cars, you could say: “Hi, my name is John Smith, and I enjoy helping people find the vehicle that suits them to a T.”
Or: “I enjoy helping people find the perfect vehicle at the right price.”
Or: “I love handing people the keys to their new car.”
If you’re up for a CEO position, you could say something like, “I love taking all the great things about a company and making them even better.”
Or, “I enjoy solving problems.”
The point is, your opening line may be all someone clings to, so make sure your name and what you do (or used to do, or want to do) are in it..
After that, list a few accomplishments, and a tiny sliver of what you’ve done. The thing that bogged almost everyone I met down was their inability to let the majority of their accomplishments and abilities go by the wayside in the interest of brevity. Some of them would talk for three or four minutes straight, detailing every accomplishment, major and minor, and the subtle nuances of their last three or four positions.
There’s no time. You have 30 seconds, so make it count.
To go back to the sales idea, “I spent the last four years selling XYZ cars, and the six years before that selling ZYX cars. I was the seller of the month on two different occasions, and almost half of my customers loved working with me so much they would request me as their salesman when it was time to trade their car in for a new model.”
The point is, you need to tell people what you do (quickly) and demonstrate that you’re good at it (quickly). If you’ve got 20 years of selling behind you, and you’ve been in a few different businesses, it could look like this. “I’ve been in the sales game for 20 years now, and I love learning about new products and how they can help my customers. I’ve sold chickens, chicken feed, cars, trucks, canned goods, dogs, and airplanes, and the thing I’ve learned about customers is all of them love a good product at a good price.”
Ultimately, what you say has to be positive, but also the truth. Too much hyperbole will sound fake (I love selling more than I love eating!) and will probably turn off your listener.
Finally, close with what kind of position you want. “In my next job, I hope to get up every morning with a great product to sell, so I can spend my days telling customers what a great company I work for.”
That’s probably too much. “I’m looking for a new sales challenge,” is good.
The point is, you want to get your speech down to 30 seconds, you want a good opener with your name and job title, and you want a good closer that tells people what you’re looking for.
At one of my networking meetings, the woman running things had a single line that might help as well: “I like to help who do what by how?”
In my case, it would be, “I like to help companies educate and entertain their customers using the power of words.”
Again, “the power of” is probably over the top. But if you’re trying to pump up the enthusiasm factor, it could work.
There’s one more component to the elevator speech that I don’t think I ever heard emphasized enough, and that is: Conviction.
So many people I saw giving their speech said it like they weren’t sure what kind of job they had, or wanted. Their sentences went “up” at the end, like they were asking questions.
Many of them read directly off a sheet of paper, and often they sounded like they were reading it for the first time.
That won’t work.
Ultimately, your elevator speech must be something you can rattle off at any moment. And it shouldn’t be hard. When you had a job, you told people what you did all the time. Now you just need to do the same thing, but add, “At my last position” in front of it, and “In the future, I’d love to do more of the same (or something different!).
That’s all there is to it.