(CareerBuilder) -- Are you sick of the word "networking" yet? It seems to be on everyone's lips -- all those millions of people just like you who are looking for a new job.
Networking is a lot of work. And if everyone is doing it, where's the competitive advantage?
Here's the secret: Almost everyone is doing a lousy job of it. Do it well (even if you hate it), and you're already well ahead of the herd.
For most people networking is a big, shapeless drag -- something they do when they're not prowling the job boards. There's that luck-of-the-draw feeling about it, especially when you hear stories about how someone was at the right place at the right time. If you're not a prom queen or golf pro, you're doomed.
If you'd rather be at home with a book than out there soullessly schmoozing strangers who would otherwise bore you, wouldn't time pass more quickly in your easy chair? At least you're less likely to spend money when you're at home.
Still, despite your preferences, you're out there. But this networking thing's not working for you, is it? Let's find out why not and what to do about it:
1. Going to networking events has all the appeal of visiting a compost pile.
Are you a little tired of seeing the same sad-sack faces month in and month out? Join the club; they're probably tired of seeing yours. Networking events are a great opportunity to meet people who don't have jobs. But they're terrible for meeting people with jobs. (If you were happily employed, would you hang out with this crowd? We thought not.)
Your fixes: Connections and courage. Make connections beyond these networking-only events. Have the courage to ask for introductions to leaders and experts in your field, to your counterparts in other companies (even your former competitors). Go to conferences and receptions. Go to every single party you're invited to.
2. Your friends cross the street when they see you coming.
You might have burned out your relationships by being so focused on your frustrations in finding a job. Think about your recent conversations. Are you just hearing the sound of your own voice in your memory's ear? Can you even name your best friend's children anymore? Instead of saying "Hi" to you, do they just cut to, "Nope, nothing yet"?
Your fix: Courtesy. It's natural to use your friends and family as your networking jumping-off place. But if you just use them as immediate connections to a sure-thing job opportunity, you're going to burn out your friendships pronto.
Definitely let them know that you're looking for work -- there's no shame there at all. And ask them for introductions to people they might know who would be able to move your search forward (a co-worker, for example, might know someone who knows someone).
Don't put them on the spot of always having to say no when you ask them, "Do you know of any jobs out there?" Pretty soon you'll have the sidewalk to yourself.
Word to wise: When you are introduced to people, remember to thank your friends (thank all of your networking partners, for that matter) with e-mail updates, even formal, handwritten notes from time to time. Everyone likes to see their friends make progress out of a life crisis, and everyone likes to feel appreciated for the part they played in your journey to better times.
3. You can't seem to squeeze in the time necessary for networking.
Let's face it, right now you probably are more tempted by projects that have a sure-thing conclusion and that will give you the satisfaction of actually accomplishing something. And you deserve those gratifications of jobs well done -- or, well, at least done.
Yet somehow, making those phone calls just never seems to happen.
Your fix: Commitment. For starters, commit yourself to making five phone calls a day. Make it easy on yourself: Have a brief script ready to work off of, so you don't have to start cold with each phone call. Be comfortable (in your desk chair, not that easy chair). Commit yourself to filling your "funnel" of contacts and leads, just like salespeople do.
With every "no" you hear, you still have plenty more phone calls to make and conversations to follow up on ... and no single rejection is ever the end of the world.
4. You're doing everything right and your networking still isn't working.
How do you know it's not working? OK, so the obvious is indisputable: You still don't have a job. But with enthusiastic networking filled with a variety of contacts and introductions, you've set events in motion that you might not even be aware of: People may be talking about you and brainstorming with each other about whom else to introduce you to; someone might be checking with HR right this very minute to see how a position can be created for you.
Your fix: Patience. These things take time. Cold comfort, we know, when the mortgage is due. But your alternative, which is to not network at all, will get you nowhere.
Keep up your commitment. Keep growing your connections. Remember to be courteous to your friends and expanding networks. And the right job will come.
Duncan Mathison and Martha I. Finney are co-authors of the new book "Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tight."
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