Statistics tell us that we are all connected to each other with as few as only six people (or six referrals) between us. Let’s think about this 6° of separation for a moment…
In addition to there being only 6 people between us in a network of connections, we know that over 85% of jobs are created for or secured by job seekers who actively engage in effective networking. Yet, many job seekers still resort to trying to find new jobs by the least effective style of job search known to job search; they read job boards exclusively, filling out applications, sending out resumes to cold contacts, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. And, unfortunately, if those same job seekers don’t know how to effectively complete electronic applications, or to develop resumes for scoring by Automatic Tracking Systems, they will still be waiting for a call-back for several days or months after the position for which they applied has already been filled. And they may still never know if their applications or resumes were delivered to the correct electronic destination because they never followed up.
OK, so we shouldn’t be surprised that doing things the same way they’ve always been done will produce results that are no different from those produced in the past. But it would seem that equally elusive is the concept that there is a difference between having contacts and having a working network of individuals who will help you build a working network that will ultimately lead you to your next job or career position.
You can have 5,000 or 20,000 contacts on LinkedIn or social media, for example, or 1,000 business cards stashed in a shoe box, but that doesn’t mean you have a network that will do you any good during job search or while building your career for the long haul. Being networked means having people in your life who know enough about you to talk about you with people in their own personal and professional networks. Being effectively networked means having a connection or a relationship with someone with whom you’ve shared contacts of your own that may help another person reach a specific network need. Having a network means being actively engaged in the lives of other people.
You are not networking during job search by sitting at home reading about jobs, talking on the phone with peers to complain about how hard it is to job search, or worse, to commiserate about the poor condition of the job market. Not finding a new job is not because of your age, the color of your hair or even your skin color or body shape. Not finding a job is the result of not talking to other people to learn about their jobs and how they decided to do the work they do, or why they don’t do something they enjoyed 10 years ago but don’t enjoy today. Communicating with other people allows you to learn about company personalities, the what, why and where of jobs people within your network hold and how they got to where they are. Networking helps you learn about yourself by learning about others. Networking is allowing first degree contacts (family, existing friends, teachers, insurance reps and the guy working in the local grocer) know that you want to learn more about what they do, why they do it and with whom they can connect you to help you learn more about the local economy, what employers are doing well, which ones are moving in, expanding, moving out or closing shop. Without other people in your life with whom you network during a job search, you are working in a vacuum and are likely getting sucked up by negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are capable of being emotionally and sometimes physically dangerous to your personal short- and/or long-term career growth.
Don’t do this to yourself. Get out there. If you can, take classes to meet people and get to know each other mutually so everyone has an opportunity to grow from the experience of connecting with other human beings. Participate in job-search support, transition, and networking groups—but don’t make the mistake that simply attending these events means you are actually “networking”. You must be making eye contact and doing something memorable, like striking up a conversation that leads to meaningful connectedness.
Don’t allow someone to tell you that introversion is holding you back. You may be introverted, but introversion is not about reaching out to others. Introversion is about where you get your energy with respect to being around and interacting with other people. Interestingly, for all the noise about the challenges presented in job search when someone is as an introvert, there are statistically far more extroverted people than there are introverts. But it isn’t only introverts who sometimes struggle with developing effective, working networks. Truth-be-told, extroverts are often as unwilling to establish functional networks because they are shy, or withdrawn for any number of reasons.
It is my personal premise that no one is too introverted to network. Shyness on the other hand is a behavior that can hold someone back from reaching out to or getting to know others socially. Shy people are capable of learning new ways to function, and networking is a skill that can be learned. And, like other things that can be learned, the more you practice networking, the more proficient you become, and the easier it gets to meet and interact with new people. Don’t hide behind excuses. Inhibited or shy, quiet or not accustomed to visiting with other people is admittedly extremely difficult for many people, but with some help from close friends and family, and active members of your working network, or even a counselor or coach if necessary, you can learn and practice communication skills, and you can get in touch with that person who is the sixth person out who may hold the keys to your next job.
Networking is an extensive exertion of energy. It can be exhausting. Networking can drain you of your energy at the end of several hours if you are truly an introvert. But no matter the reason that may be preventing you from truly networking, the barriers can be overcome and effective networking can be achieved. It is imperative that you develop, nurture, and use an ever-evolving working network of your own making to become part of the 85% of job seekers who successfully find that person who is their 6th degree of distance from their next job opportunity.
Kim is an Outplacement Job Transition Specialist who speaks for You Can Get Hired, and will be one of our featured speakers on May 5, 2015. You can find her on Personal LinkedIn, her company LinkedIn or through her website. Please see our Events page to register and learn more.