Networking, 21st-Century Style

This is a guest post by Heather Taylor. This freelance writer, consultant and radio producer has served as a job coach in the AARP Foundation WorkSearch Program since January 2011, helping adults 50+ who are unemployed to find satisfying work.

Networking is frequently cited by career and job coaches and in job search books. And the reason is pretty clear: networking works. Why? Since most job openings aren’t advertised, already having contacts in your particular field can give you an advantage over other job seekers.

“By effectively building a network of colleagues, business associates and more,” says Inc. magazine contributor Lou Dubois in How to Network Effectively“you are ensuring that whenever you need a new client, a new job, or to develop your skills further, you can call upon your network to help you.”

Sounds simple, right? Make contacts and develop a network that you interact with regularly, not just when you’re looking for a job. So if networking can yield such good results, why do so many job seekers put networking in the same category as having a root canal or public speaking?

Job seekers I spoke with said that networking was one of the most challenging parts of the job search process. They found it harder than writing or revising a resume, preparing for interviews or researching companies.

So what is it about networking that bothers even the most committed job seeker?  

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of the professional networking site LinkedIn, and entrepreneur and author Ben Casnocha, offer some insight to this question in their new book, The Start-Up of You:  Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself and Transform Your Future

Many people are turned off by the topic of networking. They think it feels slimy, inauthentic. Picture the consummate networker: the high-energy fast talker who collects as many business cards as he can, attends networking mixers in the evenings… [These networkers] pursue relationships thinking only about what other people can do for them. And they’ll only network with people when they need something, like a job or new clients.

What’s a better model than the “slimy, inauthentic” one described above? After you’ve established a basic list of the people you already know–from personal to professional-you should start thinking like an entrepreneur, say Hoffman and Casnocha, and be open to new and different possibilities.

One job seeker named Ann, a veteran of the television industry, began a multifaceted job search after being laid off. She’d already fostered strong ties in her community and professional networks, so when she needed to find work, her contacts – from those in her professional and community circles to family members – were all in a position to help her.

Ann checked in with her college alumni office for leads, applied for federal positions in public affairs and media, contacted previous employers to inquire about short-term contract work, joined LinkedIn, and actively participated in discussions online there. She targeted companies that looked like good prospects, joined listservs for people in the media field, and revamped her resume. The result? Something completely unexpected.

A self-described health enthusiast, Ann was a frequent shopper at a local health food store and had built a rapport with its manager. Ann had mentioned that she was job hunting. When a new opening eventually became available, the manager let her know about it right away. Two interviews later, Ann was offered a job – and an opportunity to get into a new field which interested her.

You never know when contacts and relationships, even seemingly casual ones, will pay off. Take advantage of AARP’s online resources, including this article on networking, to help.

Do you rank networking right up there with having a root canal? Any strategies or tips you would recommend to cultivate relationships within your network? Share them with other AARP blog readers in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of @MSG via Flickr Creative Commons.