Networking: “Don’t send nobody nobody sent.”

–Chicago Alderman Vito Marzullo, (D-25th)

Alderman Marzullo uttered his classic remark for WBBM reporter Bob Crawford’s tape recorder in 1979, but it was a saying in Chicago’s City Hall for many years before that—and corporate hiring managers are still saying it. In fact, networking for hiring purposes (which is what Marzullo was referring to as he explained political patronage) is back at the height of fashion and probably never fell out of favor. Simply put, companies hire people that come recommended: someone somebody sent.

A 2010 Right Management survey of almost 60,000 job seekers found that more than 40 percent found work by networking. Networking beat out second place Internet job boards by more than 20 percent and surpassed agency search firms by 30 percent.

Many intelligent, well-educated job seekers don’t seem to have a grip on networking, according to counselors at Career Moves, the JVS Chicago employment services program. Many jobseekers still think it’s asking people you know if they know of anyone who is hiring.

Don’t Ask for a Job

“When people think of traditional networking, they think of asking people they know for a job,” said Jeff Blumenfeld, Counseling Supervisor for Career Moves. “That’s not at all what it’s about. Networking is building a group of relationships that are mutually beneficial.”

According to Executive Career Specialist Laurie Rosen, a good networker never asks directly for a job.

“First of all, it turns people off and very few people know of open positions,” she said. “What you ask for is advice or contacts. As you interact with people more and more, you will find a position. Any networking meeting can turn into a job interview.”

Blumenfeld couldn’t agree more. “No matter how many times you go back to the network, you don’t ask for a job,” Blumenfeld said. “You can come back and advise me that you’re putting in for the position and ask me if there are other people in the company with whom you should network, but that’s it. Some people think if you ask enough people, then it’s okay to ask for a job; it isn’t. You have to be disciplined.”

Types of Networking

Rosen said that almost any situation is ripe for networking and there are several kinds. Informational networking is asking people for intelligence about how your skill set fits an industry you have targeted. Targeted networking is compiling a list of companies you think would be a good fit and asking your network if anyone knows someone in one of those companies whom you could contact. One-on-one networking—“the best form of networking,” according to Rosen—is a result of attending contact meetings; adding people to your LinkedIn network is a popular method way to do this.

Regardless of type, networking etiquette is important. Stephanie Spiesman, a Washington, DC-area success coach who writes frequently about networking, stresses being “genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships and seeing how you can help others.” In other words, networking is a two-way street.

A Two-way Street

“When you’re networking with someone, you should send a thank you note after every networking meeting,” said Rosen. “Let’s say someone gave you three contacts at your last meeting. They want to know what you did with them, so you send them a note saying ‘I connected with Suzie Q, we’re meeting next Monday; I left a message for Bob and am still trying to reach so-and-so.’ After the meeting with Suzie Q, copy the person who gave you her name on your thank-you note to Suzie.”

In short, keep everybody in the loop and don’t ask for a job.

Tools of the Networking Trade

Rosen also recommends developing key networking tools. She urges clients to print a networking business card and write a one-page handbill to be used at “networking meetings,” which she said are actually contact meetings—“the real networking happens after you make those contacts.”

The handbill briefly states who you are (with a photo), what you do and—most important, according to Rosen—how you add value to a company. It also can list target positions, industries, contacts and companies. It includes your contact information, too, of course.

If the going gets rough, she recommends sending a “fishing letter” (if suitable for the type of work you do). Finding the highest ranking manager who is likely to be involved in hiring you at a specific company, you write that person a letter outlining how you would add value to the company and what reasons a company might have for hiring you.

“You don’t send a resume,” Rosen said emphatically.

A recent client of Rosen’s sent 10 fishing letters and received two responses, which Rosen considered an outstanding response—“it’s a longshot.”

LinkedIn is perhaps the hottest tool in networking these days and Rosen recommends that people expand their LinkedIn contact list to 500 or more.

“I had a client who heard me say that in a workshop and within a week she had expanded her contacts from 55 to 195. It’s not that difficult. I have 1,400+ contacts in my network, and I probably don’t know a majority of the people. But every time I have reached out to someone to say ‘we haven’t met, but we share a network, and I have someone that would like to network with you—can I put them in touch?’ I have never been told no.”

Networking Resources

Chicago is blessed with numerous networking opportunities. Crain’s Chicago Business singled out what it called the most active networking groups—Technori, aimed at tech start-ups; City Club of Chicago, where policy wonks meet the business community; Tech Cocktail, a lot like Technori; American Club Association, a coalition of affinity clubs; Vistage International, where CEOs mingle (at $11,000-$15,000 per year); Chicago Latino Network, 50,000 members strong; Executives Club of Chicago, big on mentoring; Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, with 120 events per year, and Chicago Network and Committee of 200 for women leaders.

Chicago’s Jewish community provides some networking opportunities, too. Shalom Klein runs a monthly “speed networking” night at the Wi-Fi building in Skokie and JVS Chicago has a Jewish Employment Network that offers networking and mentoring.

Shifting Paradigms

Blumenfeld said there are two basic parts to the shift from the old way of networking to the new.

“The biggest problem is that people want to move in an old, traditional way of asking people to look at their resume and give it to somebody, which really puts a burden on the individual you’re networking with. It’s counterproductive. You have to shift your focus from a desired short-term outcome—employment—to a long-term approach that will end in employment, but is facilitated by building relationships.

“The other part is that you are willing to reciprocate,” Blumenfeld said. “You’re willing to put them in touch with people you know. That’s really the big shift in paradigm in a nutshell.”

If you need help making the shift, JVS Chicago offers a comprehensive Networking Workshop through its Career Moves program.

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