Networking doesn’t come easy for me, especially when I’m searching for a job. Any tips or tricks to help me grow my network?

Elaine Varelas provides guidance on networking do’s and don’ts.

Q.  I am in a job search and feel like I have exhausted my network. How can I keep expanding it?

A. Consider an effective network as a living, breathing, growing entity. And it absolutely takes care and feeding to continue to grow it. If you feel like you have exhausted your network, then you may need to look at and evaluate the effectiveness of your networking approaches. Your approach may be limiting your success, or your expectations may be unrealistic. One of the most important ways to approach networking or a person you would like to include in your network is with the recognition that networking is a two-way street. You have an agenda that that you would like to accomplish in your networking meeting. You would like to gain information and share information with this person about who you are as a professional, your skills, your personal style, as well as the culture of an organization you would like to join.

Many people approach a networking meeting with a cold email to a very senior person about being hired. That gets a big NO buzzer. If you assume you will ask anyone in a first meeting to hire you, your network will die quickly. This failing strategy might be something that could be limiting you. To be successful at networking, it should have a mutuality component, which is asking the question of how you can help them. If you're not asking those whom you are asking for help that reciprocal question, they might not feel compelled to offer you names, or contacts, or introductions. Your goal should be to get one or two more people to talk to from every single person that you meet with. If you are not getting this additional information, which is how your network grows, then my assessment is they don't feel comfortable with who you are. They may not even want your help, and the offer shows the kind of person you are.  It might also be that they may not know how to help or have the connections that you are looking for, and it is your responsibility to help them help you. You might offer titles, industries, or connections you saw they have on LinkedIn.  This is your challenge so make it easy for people to help you.

So, let's use an easy example. Perhaps someone you worked with always looks terrific. And you could say to this person, "Beth, your hair is always perfect. Can you tell me who does your hair?" What you've used is your network and your relationship with this person to get directed to a new contact. Beth sees that you are positive, are welcoming of her input, and so she offers you the name of her hairdresser. In the meantime, your ending might be, "Thank you so much for letting me into your network. If I can help you in any way, please let me know."

Beth may have no need at that moment, but what she has done is pocketed that favor that said you're offering that opportunity to help her in any way possible. That same conversation might then transition to, "Beth, I don't know if you know anyone in technology, but I'm very interested in companies who are in the robotics area. If you know anyone in that area, I would love to talk to them." Beth’s response might be, "I don't know anybody who currently works in robotics, but I know a guy who used to. Would that be helpful?" "Absolutely." No matter the contact that anyone gives you, your response should be, "That's so helpful. Thank you very much." You might ask Beth if she can do an email introduction for you. Or you might say, "Beth, would it be okay for me to just use your name? What is easiest?"

Part of what people forget when they're building a network is to take the burden of work on themselves and not to leave it to the other person. Ask them, "What's the easiest way to make this introduction happen? I can draft an introduction for you, if that is easiest." Don't overlook people in your personal network like a hairdresser, a barber, your mail carrier, your chiropractor, your friends from high school, or your neighbors. Everybody knows someone, and most people are willing to help.

As long as you're not asking someone to hire you, most people are willing to share information, contacts, and the names of other people who might be helpful. Do not ask people to meet you for coffee or for lunch. If they suggest it, they'll pay for it. If you suggest it, make sure you pay for it. This faux pas is annoying and will totally limit any support you get from any networking meeting. For further guidance and insights, check out the book by Devora Zack, Networking for People Who Hate Networking, Second Edition: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected.

Be respectful of people's time. Send a thank-you with your resume, letting them know that if they think of anything else after your meeting, that you would really appreciate that. And if someone has introduced you to a new contact, be sure to show great appreciation. Don’t forget to continue to feed and water your network. If you believe that engaging your network only happens when you're looking for a job, your network will be dried up and take a lot more to kick into high gear than if this is something that you recognize should always be that living, breathing entity.