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How to Network Without Being Cheesy

How does it make you feel when someone suggests that you try networking as a job search strategy?  Do you imagine yourself standing in a room of strangers praying that somebody will come and talk to you so that you don't consume an entire bowl of pretzels just to keep your hands busy?  Do you hate the idea of pretending to be interested in talking to somebody on the off chance that they could somehow benefit your career?  Take a deep breath and relax.  What is described above is not networking...or at least it is not effective networking.  It is possible to use networking to benefit your career while still staying true to yourself.  In fact, it's the best way to do it.  Here are some tips that will help you make peace with networking:

Reach out to your family and friends.  Networking is not just about connecting with strangers.  Some of the most important contacts in your network will be your family and close friends.  These are the people who know you best and who are willing to go to bat for you.  Let them know what type of job you are looking for and ask them for their help.  They may work in your field or be closely connected with someone who does. 

Focus on the relationship.  Often when people are uncomfortable with networking it is because they aren't clear about their goals.  What are you trying to achieve by talking to the person who is standing in front of you?  The answer to this question should always be that you are trying to build your relationship.  You don't want to connect with people just to get a job.  However, if you build a strong relationship with that person, there is a chance that they could help you. 

Be direct.  One of the reasons that some people are uncomfortable with networking is that it can seem dishonest.  It's like you are making somebody think that you want to be their friend but really you are just hoping that they'll help you land a job.  You can eliminate this dynamic by being direct with your contacts.  Tell them what you are looking for and ask them to let you know if they see any opportunities.  Most people will be happy to help you. 

Find a way to help the people in your network.  Networking is a game of give and take.  If you are generous with the contacts in your network, they will be more likely to go out of their way to help you.  Learn about the people in your network and take the time to understand their areas of expertise.  Is there anyone in your network who might benefit from an introduction?  Have you seen any opportunities that you can forward to them?  Always be on the hunt for ways that you can help. 

Commit to it.  While it's important to be yourself when you are building relationships with people, a vibrant network doesn't just 'happen'.  It takes a consistent effort to build and maintain these connnections.  Reach out to the people in your network and invite them for a coffee every now and then.  Comment and like their posts on social media. If you devote an hour a day to your networking strategy, it will be an asset to your job search.

Some job seekers are uncomfortable with networking as a job search strategy.  Unfortunately, since most employers prefer to hire candidates through someone they know, if you aren't networking you are at a disadvantage.  It shouldn't be a painful process; all you need to do is be nice!   

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)