Intellectually, everyone I work with in relation to career development understands how important networking is. Yet, their reluctance to actually do it can be extreme.
What I’m talking about here is what could be called “emergency” job search networking. It’s when you are out of a job (or just want to leave your current job and find a new job) and you are using the strict, “cake recipe” rules of job search networking as a key activity to win your next job.
Well, now researchers can tell us why we are often so reluctant to network AND more importantly, their research recommends a mind-set that I also advocate with my clients, which can help you feel more comfortable about this most critical career activity.
Does networking make you feel dirty?
A recent study, titled The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties: How Networking Can Make Us Feel Dirty, appeared in the December 2014 issue of Administrative Science Quarterly and showed that professional networking makes people feel unclean, so much so that they subconsciously crave cleansing products.
“Even when people know networking is beneficial to their careers, they often don’t do it,” says Francesca Gino, a professor in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets unit at Harvard Business School.
The authors hypothesized that professional networking increases feelings of inauthenticity and immorality—and therefore feelings of dirtiness—much more so than networking to make friends.
Yet the study also showed that networking had a positive association with job performance. So, it is critical to change your mindset in relation to it.
How to approach networking without the need for a shower
At the moment when you are looking for a new role, the degree to which you are well-connected in the business world is an issue of fact that can’t be changed. “It is what it is”, as I often say. There is no point regretting past lack of career management –it’s much more useful to look forward. (And, of course to resolve to maintain your newly expanded networks into the future.)
Advice in the study reflects the philosophy that I share with my clients, in order to help them feel more comfortable with picking up the phone to a stranger and asking for a short meeting.
I have two tips to help you feel comfortable about seeking advice from strangers in relation to your next job move.
Tip#1: View job search networking as swings and roundabouts. At this particular moment in time, you are asking person after person to support you in your next career move. There is a way to view this as more than simply “using” people. I believe that your request for some time from a stranger becomes an acceptable exchange if you resolve to play your part in future to help some other person make a good career move. Hence, the swings and roundabouts.
Tip#2: I believe and the study shows that it helps for you to believe that you can contribute reciprocal value to the meeting. As the authors say, it may be beneficial you to view your networking as something more than an activity simply designed to help you to move up the corporate ladder.
“If you focus on what you can offer to the relationship, it might be an important mindset to have, and remove some of those feelings of inauthenticity,” Gino says.
How can you offer something of value to this stranger?
I read two newspapers a day before I head into the office. My husband laughs at me for the time that this takes out of my official working day and when I say that I’d like to work part-time, he replies, “You ALREADY DO.”
However, what I have only recently come to realise, is the general knowledge I have built up as a consequence means that I can almost always offer something of value to the stranger I meet. If you add to this a positive demeanour, you are likely to energise the interaction so that you AND the stranger enjoy the interaction.
When I first started consulting all those years ago, I did endless job search networking in order to build my list of prospective clients. My most vivid memories are not of those people who promised/gave me work. It was the ones who commented genuinely at the end of our meeting: “It’s a pity that we can’t work together – I would really have enjoyed it”.
This gave me the confidence to continue networking with strangers. And, even though my current clients are very busy people, I have learned that they also enjoy our coffee catch ups as there is a true, vibrant exchange involved.
- start improving your general knowledge…
- set some concrete KPIs about meeting new people…
- don’t forget your current contacts…
and you won’t need the soap.
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