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Down with Networking! What New Employees Need to Know About Building Relationships

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Networking is one of the toughest and most important aspects of the job search, not to mention of our careers and overall professional development. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most hated, misunderstood, and consequently, poorly practiced areas of the job search, too, which is probably why many of us dread networking altogether. Still, like it or not, we simply must do it. It's too difficult to land a job, an internship, or a new client today without networking.

However, there is both good and bad networking. In fact, today you'll read many articles that declare networking passe or out-of-date, because networking often seems artificial and unsophisticated to today's more savvy job seekers. Some of the images we all have of networking - for instance, where we call up someone whom we've never met to ask him or her for an informational interview or for coffee - seem forced and artificial.

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.

Starting now, think of networking as relationship building - and your new goal is to have as many conversations with as many people as possible. That's it. Unlike some networking actions, which end once you've gotten what you want from the relationship (i.e., a job), having conversations with as many people as possible will help you build real, genuine relationships. Think about it: if you were working at a company, would you automatically help someone get a job there that you hardly knew?

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 or email
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Popular tags:

 open positions  internships  graduates  long-term relationships  good and bad  sooner  China  sending  careers

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