I got an interesting email from someone who has seen my Pluralsight courses… he says:
I’ve completed a couple of your courses on Pluralsight and have found them to be most helpful. Having been with the same IT consulting firm for almost 19 years, I’m doing a relatively “late career” networking/job search. Your courses (Build a Killer Brand, Career Management 2.0, Informational Interviews) have helped me jump-start a process that, frankly, has been difficult for me in the past.
One reason for the difficulty is because I am vocally handicapped, the result of a work accident 24 years ago. Networking in a crowded, noisy room such as at a conference is just plain difficult. Presently, I’m doing the informational interview thing and the one-on-ones are much easier than talking to someone at a large function. But I just can’t easily walk up to someone and strike up a conversation when there’s background noise.
I’m wondering if you have any tips for someone like me who cannot easily project his voice and, if I have to, tire very easily.
What a great question. I imagine that Charles feels unique, and at a disadvantage. Here’s what I’ve learned: we all feel unique, and at a disadvantage. Every single job seeker I’ve met feels that way.
Well, not the ones who are Type A, and just starting their job search. But time has a way of wearing on you, and once you are at the third week, or the third month, you feel unique, and at a disadvantage.
I don’t say this to minimize Charles’ voice issues. Not at all. But I do want you (everyone) to know that everyone in this job search community feels inadequate, with challenges to overcome. Well, maybe there are those who don’t feel that way, but they are the weirdos :p
Anyway, what is my recommendation for Charles? I’ve had a couple of days to think about this, and here’s my advice:
Don’t worry about networking in groups.
That seems to be the crux of the “problem” from his email. He has this idea that you, as a job seeker, are supposed to go to network meetings and … network.
Well, that’s true. You should. But let’s redefine network meetings and network:
Redefining network meetings
The high impact network meetings might be job clubs (or job ministries, depending on where you live), industry or professional luncheons, meetings sponsored by a company with a special speaker, conferences, etc. These are places where there (a) are lots of people, and (b) is lots of background noise. You know who really has a hard time at these types of network meetings? Introverts.
But a network meeting doesn’t have to be a conference, event, etc. It could be much smaller, and more intimate.
When I read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi I realized that networking doesn’t mean meet a ton of people at a place, shake a lot of hands, collect a lot of business cards, and have a lot of superficial conversations with people I’ll probably not talk to again, even though there were promises like “let’s have lunch sometime!” Ah, sometime. That time in the future that never happens.
What I learned from Ferrazzi is that networking doesn’t have to be big-crowd and superficial. The goal, actually, is to start relationships and nurture relationships. For me, that happens one-on-one, and over time.
I hated the idea of networking because I thought it was big crowd, pass business cards, smile a lot, ask them about themselves (a la How To Win Friends and Influence People), and maybe… just maybe, have a second meeting in a more intimate environment.
But Ferrazzi gave me permission to ignore the benefit of inefficiencies (that is, that you could get a bunch of connections in a large group) and rethink networking at a one-on-one exercise. This realization was liberating.
How does this apply to Charles? Let me suggest that if being in a crowd where his voice isn’t heard because he can’t project is not fun, nor productive, that he goes with a different purpose. I almost wrote “that he doesn’t even go there, and do other networking stuff.” But really, if he can go to networking meetings and have face-time with people, he should. Having a physical presence is a good thing. But instead of thinking that you go to these big crowd networking events to talk to a lot of people, what if you went in with completely different goals?
When I go to a network meeting now, my goal is to talk to at least one person. But it has to be the right person. Let me give you an example… a few years ago I went to a really big, really noisy networking event. It was where all of the Pluralsight “authors” (or, content producers like me) met, with a bunch of the Pluralsight staff. The truth is, I have very little in common with the authors (except that we all spent a ton of time and energy making videos by ourselves… so there’s a camaraderie there), and really not much to talk about with the staff. I was kind of a black sheep at Pluralsight, not offering technical training (which was their core), instead doing these weird courses on how to listen better… soft skills as they called it, professional development as I would come to call it.
So why go? Who do I talk with? What is the reason to spend a couple of days out of my office and hang out with these guys?
I had ONE meeting that changed everything. It changed my relationship with Pluralsight. It changed the courses I would work on. It changed my enthusiasm for where they were heading. The meeting was so impactful that I realized I needed to get home, finish what I was working on, and then totally change directions with the content I was proposing.
That one meeting, with the right person, has impacted my work and my income every day for the last few years.
Instead of trying to meet as many people as I could, and “brand myself,” and get X number of business cards over the weekend conference, I went in with ONE question, and I wanted to ask someone who was in a position to answer the question with real knowledge (not just assumptions).
I found the person, asked the question, and the rest is history.
One question, one person.
How does this apply to Charles?
Let me suggest that when you go to network meetings, you fully understand the purpose of going. It is not for the food, it is not to get out of the house, it is not to be seen… it is to make the right one connection with the right one person. If you make a great connection with more than one person, great! Bonus!! But don’t fall into the trap that this is a numbers game and if you come back with less than ten business cards then you failed.
What’s your one question? Who’s the right connection?
If it were me, I would go in with the purpose of starting a relationship with someone who could help me move to the next level. I would probably try to eventually get an informational interview with that person, not then, but later, and then build that relationship. Or, get introductions from that person and have more informational interviews.
This is networking. Finding and building relationships over time. Networking is not being in a crowded room, competing for talk time. No matter what everyone tells you, you don’t have to go to networking events to network.
In fact, many of my JibberJobber users live in places where there aren’t appropriate network events they can go to. They might live in a town that doesn’t have any, or a city that has none of their peers or colleagues. They might be in such a specialized niche that there are only a few hundred, or a few thousand, people they should network with.
So what do they do? Well, in the olden days (a few years ago) they would go to industry conferences. Expensive and time consuming, but great to meet the right people. Today, a lot of what you need to do can be done online. While there are a number of sites to do this, LinkedIn is the 8,000 pound gorilla. There’s really no compelling reason to go to another site, at least at the beginning of your online networking ventures.
Here’s what I suggest to Charles: (a) know what his questions are, and then (b) find the right people he should talk to about those questions. Find them on LinkedIn and reach out to them, and start the relationship.
It might be just an email or message at first, but eventually he should get to the point where he is on the phone, face-to-face, or simply just having deeper and more frequent emails.
That is networking. Nurturing relationships with regular communication. It’s not strutting around a conference room like a peacock, showing off or acting extroverted… it’s real, meaningful relationships.
My guess is that Charles already knows this… but if he was like me when I started my job search (and when I first started networking), I had assumptions of what was successful and what was failure. Staying home, unbathed and on the computer (I’m talking about me, not Charles :)), was failure, especially when there was a networking event I should have gone to.
Ferrazzi’s book, and learning about relationships, simply gave me permission to do what I already knew I should have been doing: finding and nurturing relationships, one-by-one.
Deep down, I knew what to do, I just needed permission to not do what I thought job seekers did.
If that’s you, I give you permission to do what is right for you. If that is going to lots of meetings, great. But for many of you, it’s sitting behind your computer, using LinkedIn as a tool, finding the right people, and then starting your professional relationship with them.