Worse, networking has a bad reputation because people don't respect the time and effort of the person on the other end. One possible scenario: A student contacts an alumna from his business school and speaks to her about her company, a place where he'd really like to work. The alumna spends 20 minutes of her time over the phone with the student, and tells him that, unfortunately, there are no open positions right now at her firm. The student, dejected, hangs up, and eventually moves on to the next alumnus, never sending her so much as a thank you note. That's impolite, and gives all of us networkers a bad reputation.
Networking is also uncomfortable because we're approaching people we often don't know very well, and asking them for something without necessarily giving something in return. We think, ''What could I possibly offer Mr. Manager at Company X? No matter how lowly on the totem pole you may feel you reside, you always have something to offer in exchange. Let's say that you're a student from China - consider offering some unique news or information on how business is done in your country. Provide a link to an article of interest. Offer your own analysis of the company's recent acquisition. You can always come up with something to provide, and the sooner you start to view networking as a two-way road, the easier it will start to feel.
By building relationships with people, you help them get to know you and your unique qualities, and you get to know them. By understanding them in a better way, you'll learn more about their companies, their jobs, and - who knows - you may also learn that you actually don't want a job with a particular company, after all.
When you strive to build long-term relationships rather than engaging in one-off networking calls or meetings, you'll have a much greater chance of someone actually passing your resume along to the right people, and really going to bat for you, than you might have otherwise. By demonstrating your interest in someone else for the long haul, you also demonstrate that you're a nice person - something that goes a long way in today's world.
About the Author
Elizabeth Freedman, MBA, is the author of Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself and The MBA Student's Job-Seeking Bible. She is also a 2005 finalist for College Speaker of the Year, awarded by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. She runs a Boston-based communications and career development firm that helps corporations help their New Professionals look sharp, sound smart, and succeed on the job. Clients include Proctor & Gamble/The Gillette Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and The Thomson Corporation. For more information, please visit http://www.elizabethfreedman.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.