I moderated a networking panel recently where the first question during the Q&A period came from a woman in the audience who said, “I’ve been looking for a job for a while and trying to improve my computer skills in the meantime, but I haven’t been able to find anything. What should I do?”
One of my fellow panelists said something I generally agree with, which is to find people who know you and your work and ask them for help, either in getting the word out about your need or helping to connect with you with others you should know.
None of us were prepared for her response: “They’re all dead.”
They’re all dead
Yes, the woman was well into middle age, but could ALL the people she knew be dead, or were maybe some just avoiding her?
Being able to get help from your network when you need it is where the rubber meets the road in relationship building. Whether you were too busy working on your own personal stuff that you didn’t make time to build relationships, or you built them and lost touch with them, or you built them and burnt them, the end result is the same: at some point in your life when you need supporters, you won’t have them.
So what should you do instead?
Staying connected with who you know
First, make the time. Now. Today. Don’t wait. Let’s face it, none of us “have” the time for things we’re supposed to do that might be good for us, like drinking eight glasses of water a day, doing 30 minutes of cardio five times a week, or sending cards to our relatives on their birthday. You have to make the time in your schedule on a consistent basis to nurture the relationships you already have, get to know the people you work with everyday, and get out there in person and online to add new contacts. (Read my prior post Can’t Afford the Time to Network? for tips on how you can accomplish a lot in just a 30-minute block of time.)
Second, become more attractive. Not in your physical appearance, but in your knowledge, skills, attitude, and of course, your personal brand. Many times people will help you because it makes them look good to recommend a strong candidate. It’s much harder to get that help, however, if you’re middle of the road. You can’t go back and change your college transcript or the last 15 years of your work experience, but you can move forward and develop new accomplishments. Get involved with something new—a project, a movement, anything—to build new skills and create new experiences that you can talk about.
Third, focus your goal. You can spread yourself too thin by trying to cover too many bases. “I’d like to get into the healthcare field as a research manager, but I’m also thinking about opening a Subway sandwich franchise, or maybe teaching astronomy to high school students.” If you go in with that elevator pitch, you’ll lose people quickly. Even if you do have multiple passions, lead with the one you’re most excited about and which has the greatest potential (hopefully there’s an overlap). That way, rather than flit from event to event, you can spend more time in one place, meet more people when you’re there, have deeper conversations, and build closer connections.
Your success with reconnecting with old contacts and getting their help depends less on how much time has elapsed, and is more a function of the strength of the relationship when you last saw each other, the person you are now, and the clarity and specificity of what you’re looking for.
HOW you ask for that help is also critical and we’ll discuss “The Art of the Ask” in next week’s post. Stay tuned.
Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). She writes, speaks and consults to experienced professionals on how to seamlessly integrate social media and traditional networking to save time and accelerate results.