How to Network

by Mr. Cheap

Mr Cheap is out of town and may (or may not) be responding to comments.  Rest assured, he’ll read each carefully once he’s back.

This post, obviously, isn’t meant to be a comprehensive overview of networking. Entire courses, books and seminars have been devoted to that.  This is simply intended as a primer for people who know they should be networking, but have no idea how to start.  This is intended to be the sort of light networking where you send feelers out for something concrete, such as:  a job lead, a specific piece of information, advice or a small favour.  I don’t have any special training, or even particular aptitude, for this sort of thing, but I’ve usually been successful asking people for small things and this post is how I go about it.

I’ve run into people who clearly have the appetite to do some serious networking, and will happily put the work in, but seem to have no idea how to go about it.  Obviously I’m talking about career networking here (not computer networking, social networking or business networking).

People Want to Help You

In “The Alchemist“, Paulo Coelho claims that “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I’m not sure if I buy that literally, but in spite of popular wisdom, I believe most people want to help other people.  We all consider ourselves “good people”, and when someone asks for help (particularly if it’s something easy to do), people are usually happy to oblige.

Recently I needed the answers to some real estate questions and I e-mailed Alexandra (a frequent commenter here) and Rachelle.  I wrote a reasonably short e-mail, was specific in what I needed to know, and within 24 hours both had responded to me and provided excellent advice (and, happily, also answered follow-up questions).  This was the first time I had e-mailed either woman (I haven’t met either of them), and neither had any particular reason to help me, but both did.

Example

I’ve commented on his blog, he’s commented here and we’ve exchanged a couple of e-mails but I’ve never met Larry MacDonald in person.  Say I was interested in working at Nortel (which would be difficult since they’ve declared bankruptcy).  I might think of Larry immediately, since he wrote a book about Nortel.  I might write an e-mail to him that would be something like:

Hi Larry!

Hope everything is going well.  I enjoyed your recent post on your BCE shares (I think you should hang on to them) and searching for yield (I haven’t gotten my head around investing in preferred shares yet – Tom Connolly is firmly opposed to them).  I’m currently job hunting and am thinking about applying at Nortel, ideally in a developer or testing role.  If you know anyone who might be a good contact within the company (I’m trying my best to avoid HR :-) ), or if you hear about anything in the next few months, I’d appreciate it if you kept me in mind!

All the best,

Mr Cheap

Now a few things to point out.  I don’t write an angst filled diatribe against the modern economy and why it’s unfair that I’m job hunting (why should Larry care?), I keep it brief (he’s a busy man) and easy to help me (I’m just asking him to put me in touch with someone – 5 minutes of his time).

One tip an uncle gave me once is not to ask people for immediate help, but to ask them to keep you in mind.  That way, even if something isn’t immediately available, they might think of you when something comes up.

Don’t Harass People!

If the person doesn’t respond for a few days, it’s ok to send 1 more follow up, but after that leave them alone!  It’s great if someone is willing to help you out, but usually they don’t owe you anything, so don’t bug them.  Similarly, once they’ve helped you out, don’t immediately ask for more help.  Some people seem to find someone helpful, then proceed to be a nuisance and suck that person dry.  I think this is quite short-sighted.  If they decline to help you, or offer something that isn’t helpful, don’t get angry at them!  (I feel weird even writing this, but I’ve known people who do this so maybe it isn’t as obvious to everyone as it is to me).  Thank them for their time and keep looking for someone who might be more helpful.

It should go without saying, but obviously if you’re asking people you only know casually for help, you should be open to helping other people who ask YOU for help (and should DEFINITELY jump to it to help someone who has helped you in the past).  Rachelle seems to be thinking about getting into blogging, so I hope she contacts me if I can help her with any blogging or technical issues.

What are you best networking tips?  Have you found that people you know casually have been willing or unwilling to help you in the past?  What sorts of things have you asked for help with?

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