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Networked out!

Q. We all know that networking is the way to get a new job. I learned that after losing my job and surviving an eight-month job search. With no real network to start, it took me a while to develop contacts, and figure out how to ask people to help. I’ve been back at work 4 months now, and I am trying to help people who are still in the job search who I met along the way, and new people who are trying to get into my company. But it is overwhelming. I don’t have time for a cup of coffee, or lunch or “just a short meeting”. I don’t want to be a jerk and just say no, but I am trying to prove myself at this new job. What else can I say?

A. Congratulations on your new job! You made it through the challenges of the new “average” length job search, and were able to develop a strong network to make that happen. Maintaining that network is going to be key for you, and I’m sure you sent out thank you notes to all as you were announcing your new job.

Part of developing a network is the reciprocity involved, and I appreciate that you want to support the people who helped you along the way, and others as part of giving back to the process. There are many people who lose their way at this point, and move to a “one way street”. It is disheartening, and can motivate people to limit their networking support when they experience this callousness.

Protecting your time is nothing to apologize for, especially in a new job. Priorities change, and developing your reputation within a new organization is a well-understood issue. So define your work time. Is it an 8-hour day? A 10-hour day? Will you make lunch your own time or is it easier to meet new colleagues if you stay close to the office? Think about whether you’ll take networking calls at work, or only respond to calls and emails after hours.

You may not be able to help everyone individually, but you may be able to support many people’s job search activity. If you have websites you found most effective, or networking groups, or recruiters who were supportive, create an email signature, which can be included in your emails to people who are looking for not only contacts or leads but also advice and encouragement.

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If people call you and ask to meet, you can certainly tell them you just started a new job and don’t have the time to pull away from the office. What you can say is, “I’d like to try and help if I can. Send me an email with your resume, and tell me what you are looking for and how I might be able to help. Some people will think you are dismissing their request, and they won’t respond. That’s o.k. Others will follow through, and if you can support their search with a contact, an introduction, or a great lead, wonderful! At the very least the email reply with encouragement, and a real promise to keep their resume on hand if you hear of anything will be appreciated.
For some of your closer contacts, you might decide you can do one lunch or one coffee a week. You can offer to meet a person at a professional networking event – perhaps he/she can be your guest. Again decide how many of these events you might choose to go to – perhaps one a month keeps you connected to those employed and job seekers in your profession.
If people are interested in jobs with your company, talk to a human resources staffing person. Let him/her know you have good candidates you’d like to refer – if you are confident they are strong candidates. Your reputation is on the line, and there are some people you’ll feel fine about recommending. You should feel just as good about getting other people information on how to apply or if there are openings.
So keep investing in your network, and make sure you stay part of the “two way street” crowd.

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