Networking When You’re Not Job Searching
A friend of mine who was unemployed recently applied for over 500 jobs. He was highly qualified, he treated the application process like a full-time job, and it still took him 6 months of searching to land the right position. He admitted (somewhat sheepishly) that feelings of shame held him back even from asking his good friends for referrals.
This feeling is so understandable – it can feel awkward to ask favors when you’re on the hunt for a job. Nobody wants to feel indebted to their friends or colleagues.
But this approach holds us back. If networking is something you only do when you need a new job (and fast!), it can be associated with all sorts of negative feelings – helplessness, fear, even desperation. No wonder most people avoid it.
That’s why the best time to start networking is when you’re not looking for a job.
When you’re not asking for something you can be more natural. You genuinely have zero agenda, so you can offer help without it feeling transactional. Then when you do need a favor, your network will have your back. Genuine relationship-building is the name of the game.
Here are three ways to casually network even when you’re not job hunting. One baby step at a time.
1) Go to interest-based meetups
I’m a big fan of Meetup.com. In any substantial city there’s bound to be a professional Meetup group in your field.
I especially love Meetups because they’re centered around specific topics. This makes it so much easier to connect with new people, even if you’re feeling shy. You can always ask “What did you think of the talk?” and dive into a meaningful, substantive conversation right away. This shared base of knowledge is so helpful for breaking the ice.
And sometimes there’s free pizza. You can’t go wrong there.
(If you’re still nervous about bumping elbows with strangers, check out these questions for networking that can help you out of a jam.)
2) Get lunch
We’ve all got friends and former colleagues we don’t see so often. In today’s world it’s easy to let relationships vanish once you stop seeing each other at the watercooler. It’s tempting to “catch up” via Facebook stalking…but that does not a healthy relationship make.
Be the friend who’s breaking out of that rut. As often as you can manage, ask a friend, former colleague, or current coworker for a lunch date. You can catch up on life, rekindle connections, and maybe hear about an opportunity or two.
The point is, networking doesn’t have to be so high-pressure. It’s universally charming to say, “Hey I was thinking of you – can we do lunch?”.
Even if you don’t end up getting together, just reaching out with the offer will rekindle the relationship and you can catch up briefly over the phone.
3) Ask questions
If you think networking is too transparently self-serving, it probably means you’re not asking the right questions yet. (“Can I have a job please?” isn’t a good look.) But asking a specific question about your field? That’s golden.
If you want to expand your network, ask for the connection. Just make sure your ask is linked to real-world professional development.
Try saying, “I want to find out about __. Do you know anyone with that expertise?”
People love to be connectors. It lets them do something super helpful in just the 5 minutes it takes to write an introduction. They get to feel productive and generous, you make a great new connection. Remember that networking shouldn’t feel exploitative at all. It’s just about people helping people. We all love to do it, so don’t be afraid to get started today, on BrightCrowd.