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Networking: What is it and . . . .Do I have to?

"I’m looking for a job.”
    “Good luck with that!  It’s tough out there.”
“Well, you found a job.”
    “Yeah, but it took a while.”
“Well, I’m just beginning to look.   I’m sending out my resume and answering a lot of ads.”
    “Well, you’ll have to do more than that.  You’ll have to do some networking.”
Networking? ? ! !  What’s that?

Yes, indeed, that is the question: “What is networking?”
Networking is like one of those terms that everyone uses and sort-of knows what it is but yet can be hard to define and even harder to do!
Here are a couple dictionary definitions:
Oxford University Press Dictionary
    network >noun - an arrangement of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines;
               - a group of people who interact together.
            >verb - connect as or operate with a network;
               -  interact with others to exchange information and develop contacts.

I like the visual image of the “intersecting horizontal and vertical lines” because it presents a pretty good visual image of what happens when people network.  Networking occurs as an individual crosses paths with another individual, and then another, and then another . . .well, you get the idea.  They meet and talk with one another.  These planned, as well as random, meetings allow people to exchange information, identify commonalities, and expand their network of contacts.  They have, in fact, a short conversation where both exchange information they want the other to know, and ask questions to learn more. 

Networking can happen at meetings large and small –  as small as 1-to-1 sit-down meetings.  Let’s take a look at both types of networking meetings.

Type 1:  Large networking meetings
Large networking meetings, or events, occur for any number of reasons, and bring together a lot of people
Meetings offer opportunities!
who meet and greet.  These meetings can be professional associations that offer attendees a chance to meet their colleagues in a monthly or quarterly format.  The format is often a networking hour, followed by a presenter and dinner.  Or, the venues could be conferences, training workshops, courses, trainings, presentation, product demonstrations, etc.. . .In other words, events at which a group of professionals find themselves gathered together.

Although an astute job seeker tends to seek out professional settings for networking, keep in mind non-professional gatherings offer just as much opportunity to network - to share your message with attendees and learn about them as well.  Parties, community celebrations, spouses' company events, summer picnics, holiday events, family reunions, homeowner association meetings, civic clubs, political events, charity events, . . . all offer networking opportunities. 

The message is clear:  Show up, and network, at meetings and events.  They offer you, the job seeker, the prospect of meeting your next employer, or someone who can put you in touch with one. 

Type 2: Small 1-to-1 networking meetings
Small, or 1-to-1, networking meetings are really a conversation.  They are generally between two people, but could be between you and a couple or 3 people; the person you’ve invited may want to bring along a colleague or contact who is knowledgeable.  These small networking meetings are generally previously arranged, but can sometimes occur on-the-spot: two people’s paths intersect and a conversation ensues.  Either way, planned or random, it is important to plan ahead – preparing what you want to say about you, and questions you want to ask of them.

A 1-to-1, or 1-to-2 or so, networking meeting is generally a sit-down meeting in a coffee shop, a library, over dinner, in an office or meeting room.   You have requested the meeting to discuss your job search, or if you are already employed but seeking greener pastures, to expand your career.  Your plan is two-fold:
(1) To share information about your professional capabilities, and
(2) To ask questions to learn about the other person’s knowledge of the industry/profession, and who they know that could also be helpful to you. 

The message is clear:  Seek out individuals who you can invite to sit-down meetings. Such meetings offer you, the job seeker, the opportunity to expand your knowledge and circle of contacts, in order to find your next employer faster!

Networking:  Do I have to? 
If you dread the idea of going up to strangers whoss paths you cross and striking up a conversation, you are far from alone.  Many, if not most folks - if the truth were told - deplore the idea.  They’d prefer a root canal.

However, the truth also to be told is that many, if not most, job opportunities are found through networking.  These wonderful positions never see the light of an advertisement.  They are found through folks who work for a firm and know of needs or open jobs, or by talking to other folks who may know some folks who know of opportunities  . . .  You get the idea!

So, the choice is yours.  You can elect to find a position through sending out resumes and answering ads.  This choice can have you sitting at a computer, hours on end, applying for 100's if not 1000's of jobs that you find advertised on the open market.  It is an avenue to a new job, but it is a choice that generally results in a long search. 

Or you can choose to network.  Networking speeds things up.  It’s just another avenue to facilitate your search.  While still looking for positions to apply for on-line and in the paper, adding networking can uncover positions that are either never openly advertised or before they are advertised. 

So . . . Do you have to?  Well, while the choice is yours, the only obvious answer is. . .  Yes,  you really have to.  It just makes good sense: $$ and cents.
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