Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Networking advice for entry level workers

Recently, my mom told me that a candidate for an entry level job had personally emailed her twice and called once to 'follow-up' on a position opening listed online. My mom's email wasn't even attached to the posting, so this gal had done some major stalking. Then she emailed again, offering to work for a month without pay to prove her worth to the company.

Meanwhile, my PR and ad agency friends are getting assailed by interested students who know them from short meetings, asking if they can set up meetings or put in a good word for them. My CEO got an email last week from a total stranger asking her to be a mentor. The kicker? Twice monthly meetings would be good, especially if they could use those meetings to discuss further opportunities within the Minneapolis marketing world.

Who are these people? Gen Y- assertive and entitled, with a dash of recessionary desperation. If you ask me, they're also getting the worst. career. advice. ever.

Networking is not about forcing people with whom you share ZERO common bonds with, to help you. It also isn't about tugging a tenuous bond until it snaps. It's not about immediate gratification. If you get to a high enough position where you can barter your power for another's, I guess it could be about all these things. But if you're an entry level worker, even if you have 19 internships and a personal letter from Oprah Winfrey praising your brilliance, you have very little power. You have nothing to trade other than your own intelligence, talent, and skillset- and these 3 things can be enough.

Effective networking requires finding a commonality to build upon with others. Once you find that shared interest, approach it sincerely. Ask for an informational interview or a casual chat over coffee. Make sure that you are knowledgeable and insightful. Don't be a yes-man or yes-woman. Conversely, don't be a devil's advocate and don't overreach. Follow up with an email or letter that shows you are still thinking of the conversation you had and that you'd like to continue this discourse in the future. Then pay attention to what they say back to you, and act accordingly. (This is where you would NOT offer to work as an unpaid slave to my mom, if she had already told you that you should not contact her and HR would follow up if interested.)

Even when created due to a sole need for help, a networking relationship is just like any other- it needs fuel. Would you expect a guy you met at a bar the night before to invite you to his sister's wedding the next day? No? Then you shouldn't expect a random networking contact to give you the number of their personal headhunter. Nurture the relationship and make sure that you are staying within rational bounds before you start making assumptions or demands. If nothing comes of it early on, don't get discouraged. Keep the dialogue open (as long as they are genuinely responsive and engaged) and hope that eventually it will pay off. At worst, you have an email partner with similar interests- and at best, you have someone who will recommend you down the line even if this time doesn't pan out.

To be perfectly clear- at the core of any recommendation letter or HR tip-off is a relationship- make sure it's a strong one, not one rooted in obligation. Then, go forth with confidence!

And don't listen to the overzealous psycho in your Marketing 450 class that tells you she is attending networking events every night. One good contact is better than 50 crappy ones who are trying to get rid of you. Also, she probably wears a Bump It voluntarily, which speaks volumes in live interviews.


Joel said...

By far one of the best post you've written. I was starting to get hives just thinking how spastic some of these kids are.

Teresa said...

Good Lord G, you're making me think I'll never get a job.

Oh well. I could probably just be your mom's slave, no?

PS Word verification is 'yogista.' Someone who does too much yoga?