I talk to a lot of job hunters - both information professionals and those seeking work in other fields. Most know about career networking and can tell you that it is the best way to get a job in any kind of economy; that's understood.
What I see a lot of, though, especially lately, is ineffective networking. Again and again I see people engaging in behaviors that, at best, don't move them closer to employment, and at worst, work against their goal of finding a job. They often don’t realize the real effects of their actions.
Here are some examples of ineffective networking, and why they are not recommended:
1) Waiting to network until you are laid off
This is a big mistake, and a more common one than you might think. If you neglect your networking while you are employed, you will be competing for jobs with, and trying to catch up with, people who have been actively networking for years This puts you at a huge disadvantage right from the start of your job search.
2) Approaching every conversation or networking event or volunteering opportunity with a "what's in it for me?" attitude
People will quickly catch on to that fact that you are trying to use them for your own benefit. A much better strategy is to approach new or potential contacts with this question in mind: “What can I do for them. Think about it: if everyone in a room is hungry and no one brings any food, everyone goes home unhappy. Don’t request, offer instead, but do it with no strings attached, or those in your network will learn to question your motives.
3) Networking only online
Face-to-face is important too. People are much more likely to recommend someone they have met in person, and, ideally, worked with in some way.
4) Introducing yourself as “unemployed” or “laid off”
The first thing you say when you introduce yourself, or the way you respond when someone says, “Tell me about yourself”, reveals how you see yourself and how you want to be remembered by others. I have heard info pros at networking events introduce themselves (sometimes repeatedly) by saying something like, “I got laid off two years ago.”Do you want others to look at you and think, “unemployed”? Do you consider “unemployed” to be a primary and permanent part of your identity? Do you really want this event that happened to you two years ago to define you now? There is also an implication of inflexibility and stagnation in such an introduction; that you have not moved on since then and have not accomplished anything of note recently.
It is better to introduce yourself by describing what you're doing now and what you're able to do and offer. More “I am” and less “I was”. Let the fact that you are looking for work come after that information.
5) Asking everyone you meet, "Are you hiring?"
This conveys desperation, which is repulsive, and a lack of understanding of how successful hiring works and what employers want from applicants. A successful hire is someone who has the required skills, strengths, education and experience, can convey his/her value to the interviewer(s), can learn quickly what he/she needs to learn, and who fits into the culture at that workplace. “I’ll do anything, just hire me, please!” is NOT what employers want to hear. They want to know specificallyhow you would be the best candidate for the position they are trying to fill. The mere facts (that they have an opening and you are available) are nowhere near enough reasons for them to hire you.
6) Rescue fantasies
This may take different forms:
Anger/indignation that the job hunt is difficult orcomplaining that it is “impossible” to find jobs in your field.
Stalking/pestering people you’ve just met because you have decided they are of value to you in your job search.
Hiring someone, or recommending someone for hire, is risky. If it doesn’t work out an employer can lose time and money and suffer huge headaches as well as concern over the work that needs to be done (not to mention having to go through the whole search process again to hire someone else). If the recommended person turns out to be unsuitable, the one who gave the recommendation may find his/her professional judgment called into question. Why would someone risk any of that for a pushy stranger? Repeatedly calling or e-mailing a new contact or hiring manager can turn a polite “No, I’m afraid not” into a firm “Never, under any circumstances”. And just like that, a bridge is burned.
7) Expecting a recruiter to find a job for you
Again, this is a misunderstanding of how things work (and is, in a way, another form of the rescue fantasy).Recruiters find people for positions, they don’t find positions for people. Always remember that they are paid by the employer to find a candidate to fill a position – the employer’s needs for the position is their starting point. Even if you have submitted your resume and met with a recruiter, understand that he or she is only going to contact you if a job comes up that you are suitable for.
In a more general way, it is YOUR responsibility to find a job This is true in a good economy or a bad one. Your network may help you, and good networking is often what makes a job hunt successful, but no one else (not your mentor if you have one, or your internship supervisor or anyone else you may meet, not your professors or your school, not a recruiter) is going to take over your job hunting duties for you.
8) Connecting with as many people as possible on LinkedIn just for the sake of having a high number of connections. Common sense tells you that quality trumps quantitywhen it comes to connections, with LinkedIn or any other way of networking, but many people just want that high number. Having strong “1st degree” connections, who really know you and are willing and able to help you, is going to benefit you much more than hundreds of people who are basically strangers who only connected with you because they wanted to get their own LinkedIn numbers up.
9) Giving all your capabilities equal weight on your LinkedIn profile (and resume)
Many of us have multiple skill sets and some have had multiple careers. It may seem a good idea to give each of your abilities equal weight and hope that the reader is impressed by the sheer quantity and variety of your experience and skills. It is better though, to decide what kind of work you want to be known for and brand yourself and build a reputation directed toward that. If your LinkedIn information is too broad and includes too many different competencies without a focused emphasis, you may give the impression of being “jack of all trades, master of none”.
10) Having outdated information on your LinkedIn profile, or posting updates too often
When something significant in your career happens you need to change or add the information on LinkedIn and on your resume right away. Outdated information, especially employment info, sends an "I don't care" message to the reader (plus it is lying, if you have left a job and your LinkedIn profile says you still work there). While you want your LinkedIn info to be current and accurate, it is not necessary or appropriate to post updates on LinkedIn as often as you might on Facebook or Twitter.
Remember that real, successful networking is always mutually beneficial. The ideal networking relationship is one where each person is willing and eagerto help the otherwith genuine enthusiasm<, and that comes in time, with multiple positive experiences and mutual trust. Rushing or trying to force it just doesn’t work.
Do you know the saying, "Dig your well before you are thirsty"? That's effective networking in one sentence. It doesn't begin when you are in a crisis and need something from others and it really doesn’t ever end. It is something that you nurture and cultivate, over time, like a garden, and, like a garden you have to put significant effort and care into it for some time before you can expect to get anything from it. You benefit now from the networking you've done over the past few years, and you will benefit in the next few years from the networking you are doing now.
Ellen Mehling received her MSLIS from Long Island University and works as a librarian, instructor and writer in and around NYC. Her professional experience includes work in special, public, and academic libraries, as well as archives. She is Director of the Westchester Graduate Library School Program and Director of Internships for L.I.U.’s Palmer School and since 2009 has been METRO’s Job Bank Manager / Career Development Consultant. She teaches classes and workshops on job hunting, information literacy, researching, and other subjects at METRO’s Training Center and other venues within and outside NYC.