The #1 mistake people make when networking to find a job

My colleague was lamenting how his networking efforts weren’t producing many job opportunities.  He was afraid that his network was “tapped out.”  I asked him how he was leveraging his network.  What were the exact words he used when reaching out to people?

“Well, I email them my resume, and I ask them to send opportunities my way.”

It’s no wonder why he wasn’t getting much of a response, I thought.  But my colleague, who went to top-tier schools for both his undergrad studies and his MBA, didn’t seem to realize what a big mistake he had made. 

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How to find a mentor

Mentorship has been popping up in my life a lot lately.  In the past two weeks, I’ve attended the 10-year anniversary for Stanford’s alumni-student mentoring program, met with my own mentor of 16 years, had dinner with my mentee of 6 years, and volunteered to be a mentor at UC Berkeley’s Women Empowerment Day.

It was at that last event that one of the young women asked a great question:  In the absence of formal mentoring programs, how do I find a mentor?

mentor

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Networking: Getting Started (Part 3)

Many of us grew up knowing networking was a good thing, and that it had something to do with having or getting a lot of contacts, but what we’re supposed to do with all those contacts may have been a little unclear.

A few months ago I was explaining the concept of informational interviews to my boyfriend.  He was in the midst of a full-time job search, and I had encouraged him to try a networked job search, in addition to doing the respond-to-job postings thing.

I walked him through Part 1, “You have an entire fan club of folks who think you’re awesome and want to see you succeed!” and Part 2, “You just need to let them know what you’re looking for and tell them what specifically they can do to help you.”  Now it’s time for Part 3: how to conduct an informal career chat (a.k.a informational interview).
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Networking: Getting started (Part negative-1)

Hold up, wait a minute.  Let me put some (context?) in it.

I need to back things up a little bit.  Before you do an informational interview, even before you reach out to to your network to ask for contacts, it helps to spend some time really thinking about what is it that you really want.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a teacher. I loved learning, I loved the way knowing stuff made me feel, and I wanted to help others feel that way, too.  In kindergarten, I decided I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher.  In the first grade, I wanted to be a first grade teacher.  And so it went.  Until one of my teachers found out I wanted to grow up to be a teacher just like her, and she told me “That’s a waste of your brain.”

I think I went home and cried that day.  But she was my teacher, someone I idolized and trusted, and being a child at the time, I listened to her.  So, I tried thinking about what else I could be.  I was pretty good at math and science, and my science teacher always had engineering posters up in her classroom, so I decided I’d do that.

I did end up studying engineering in college, although a part of me still longed to do something in education. Senior year, I seriously considered applying to get my master’s degree in Education, but everyone else in my major was going through recruiting, and management consulting seemed to be the primo gig.  I eventually chose to apply for the types of jobs my classmates were applying for, and landed a position at a niche consulting firm.

Within a year at my first job, I knew I wanted to leave.  I was so unhappy, I left without another job prospect in hand.  Luckily, after a short period of time, I found a job in the marketing division of a packaged foods company.  Things were good for a while.  I was good at my job, and it was interesting work.  But the industry I worked in pretty much required an MBA for management level positions, so all of my colleagues suggested I apply to business school.

Applying to business school requires a ton of introspection, as you’re asked to recount your life story (past, present, and future) and explain how their particular school fits into your plan.  You also have to be able to answer incredibly open-ended questions, like “What matters to you most, and why?” I spent months looking back at my past and trying to decipher my recent choices in life.  I asked friends for help, had numerous conversations with people, and filled an entire notebook with my thoughts and hypotheses.  It was during that process that I realized that at the core of me, I wanted to do work that helped enable people to succeed.  And so, I told business schools that I wanted to pursue a career in public education.

Looking back, I spent a whole lot of time doing things that other people thought would be good for me.  Now, for the first time in my life, I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. The reason I was able to get here is because I have a clear idea of what I want, and I am not afraid to go after it.

I promise I’ll eventually return to the networking series, and tell you how to start networking and conduct informational interviews and hold a wine glass, plate of hors d’oeuvres, and napkin in one hand while keeping the other free for shaking hands.  I just wanted to pause and bring it back to the key idea at the center of this blog.

What do I do with my life?

Do something that nurtures your passions, lets you do what you’re good at, and keeps you true to your values.  But first, take some time to figure out what those things are.

Yet, I also know that I may not want to do this forever.  My skills and life-stage will evolve, at which point I may need to serve my core passions and values in a different way, with a different job.  I currently work for a network of public charter schools, helping them figure out how to run their operations in the most efficient way possible, so that we can dedicate more of every dollar we receive to our kids and their classrooms.  I recently told my supervisor that five-years from now, I hope to be a part-time mom with her own full-service children’s party planning business.  In ten years, I would love to be a full-time life coach.  All of these things integrate elements of what I am passionate about, what I am good at, and what I value.

Networking: Getting started (Part 2)

In the last post, we established:

  1. There is at least one person willing to help you in this process of figuring out what you want to do
  2. You need to tell them that you need help and how they can help you

This post is about how to ask for help.

Step 1: Compile a list of people to contact. Think about who is in your inner, middle, and outer circles.  Write down the names of your family, friends, teachers, classmates, alumni, community associates, etc.  You can grow this list by building your network, which typically involves going to events, getting involved, and meeting new people.  (Scroll down to the bottom of my last post and read my friend’s comment on building your network.)
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Networking: Getting started (Part 1)

My cousin goes back to San Jose State’s college of business every semester to talk to juniors and seniors, and one of the things he stresses to them is the value of networking.

My cousin and I, like many people, didn’t really get into networking until we needed a job.  It’s too bad, because it was at that point that we realized we should have started much earlier.  And so we go back to colleges to tell juniors and seniors to learn from our mistakes and begin to network while still in school.

Many students I’ve talked to recognize that this is good advice, but don’t know how to act on it.

“But I don’t have a network.  Most of the people I know are my age.”

You do have a network.  Remember, a network is a set of interdependent relationships in which people will want to help you and have the means to help you.  I can think of at least one person who will want to help you. Your mom.

I bet there are others who would be happy to help you: your dad, your siblings, your extended family, your neighbors growing up, your old coach, your favorite teachers from high school, your spiritual leader, your current professors, friends from the class that graduated above you, etc.

“But none of those people are doing things I’m interested in.”

Remember that networking is not just about who you know, but who *they* may know. Maybe your dad plays tennis with someone who studied the same thing you’re studying.  Your grandma’s friend from church just retired from being the head of a big company.  My boyfriend’s mom trains in kung fu with a woman who gave me great career advice (true story).

Yet all these people who would love to help you, may not know that you need them to, or how.  You have to tell them.

“So what do I ask for?  I don’t event know what kind of job I want.”

You don’t have to.  That’s why you need their help.  Besides, you’re not asking for a job.  You will be asking your network to put you in touch with people who can provide you with information, advice, and more people to contact. The goal is to have your network put you in touch with people with whom you have a 20-30 minute conversation, often called an “informational interview.”  These informational interviews are a way for you to learn about what options exist for you, and what it takes to get there.

“Ok. But I feel bad.  Why would someone want to take time out of their busy schedule to talk to me?”

Here’s the biggest secret about informational interviews: People love talking about themselves. They LOVE it.  Trust me.  I admit it.  I love talking about myself.  And wow, if talking about myself can *help* someone?  AWESOME.

I hope I’ve dispelled any mental blocks you’ve had about networking, because it’s time to get started.  Next post: How to write that letter asking for help.

What is a network, anyway?

When I was growing up, my dad wasn’t one to push me or give advice, unless it was his weekly reminder that he didn’t want to see me having babies until after I graduated from college.  I can only remember him giving me advice about college twice in my life.  The first time was in the first grade, when I brought home my first report card.  He looked at it and said, “Wow, good job!  Hey, maybe you should go to Stanford.  It’s a good school and it’s close to home. ” (Apparently this piece of advice really stuck with me.)

The second time was in high school, around sophomore year.  It went like this.

“Hey, maybe you should apply to USC.  I heard they have a good network.”

“What’s a network?”

“Ehhhh, I don’t know.  But they have a good one.”

That piece of advice also stuck with me.  In that moment, I may not have understood what a network was, but I did understand this: A good network is something you want to have.

But what exactly is a good network?

Wikipedia defines a “social network” as “a social structure made up of individuals (or organizations) called “nodes”, which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency” (source)

That last word is a key part of what a network is: interdependency.  I think that some people are averse to networking because they think it’s all about what you can get out of relationships with people.  But developing a good network is building those interdependent links, or links in which both you and the other individual have something to exchange.

Let’s go back to the USC example, and alumni networks in general.  The reason why my university’s alumni network is so strong, is because we all have a stake in our network’s reputation.  Some alumni I’ve reached out to may help me out of the goodness of their hearts, but their other motive is that  if they help other alums become more successful, they improve the aggregate reputation of our alumni network and increase the value of being a part of that network.

Even in the most altruistic-seeming relationships, there is an exchange taking place.  I have mentored and coached a number of people.  I have given them advice, guidance, resources, and connections.  But they have given me something as well.  They have given me the satisfaction of feeling helpful, which makes me feel good.  In some cases, they also give me friendship, inspiration, and support.

A good network is one where you have numerous relationships in which the interdependency is strong enough, or the potential exchange of value is high enough, such that people will want to help you and have the means to help you.