Networking is not a dirty word

[This post was written before the start of our ill-fated vacation so my readers wouldn’t miss a week while I was away. More on that another time.]

Last week I said I’d write a bit more about networking, so as promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective) that’s where I’ll start. Lots of people find the thought of networking distasteful, but that just indicates that they don’t really understand how it works. Whenever I hear someone say, “I can’t network; I’m not good at it,” I point out that they network every day.

In computer parlance, a network is a collection of computers that can communicate with each other. If we apply that to people, your network comprises the people you communicate with, co-workers, classmates, family, friends, even the cashiers you see every week at Trader Joe’s.

If your letter carrier sees you sitting on your front lawn and says, “Beautiful day. Hey, I love your earrings,” and you reply, “Thanks my friend’s sister made them,” you’re networking. You may not have your letter carrier over for drinks but she might just remember your earrings and ask you for the name of the designer someday. It’s true you don’t benefit directly from that interaction but networking is about all of those little interactions that connect us to others. Somewhere in your network, someone else is having a casual conversation that will benefit you.

When it’s time to look for a job, you need to use the network you already have to expand it further. Now when your letter carrier comes by and says, “Beautiful day,” you can reply, “Yes, but I’d rather not have the time to enjoy it. Know anyone who needs a crack marketing director?” I guarantee the letter carrier will take the time to express her sympathy (because after all, it’s a beautiful day and she’s in no rush, she’s a letter carrier) giving you the opening to say, “ACME Software looks like a great company? Do you by any chance know anyone who works there?”

If you don’t know where you might like to work, or even if you want to go back to doing what you were doing, you might consider hiring a life/career coach. Even before I was laid off, I knew that I needed someone to help me figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up; someone who was not a therapist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of therapy (and we can talk about that some other time) but this was less a case of “how did my family of origin influence my behavior” than “how do I change my situation?”

I started seeing (well, I never actually saw her, we talked on the phone) Rosie Reardon. She has a website, if you want to learn more about her but I’ll share a little here for those of you who are interested. Working with Rosie was a bit like having my own personal self-help book; her advice was accessible and actionable. She helped me realize how much I was, or could be, in control, so I wouldn’t feel as if I was at the mercy of the powers that be. I learned a lot from Rosie and graduated from our sessions with a degree of self-confidence and drive that had been in scant supply. I’ll miss my conversations with Rosie, but I decided it was time to free her up for one of you.

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