Networking For Introverts: How to say it

In the September 13, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a shy reader frets about networking but is ready to mix it up with new people.

networkingQuestion

I like your advice about networking by hanging out where the people I want to work with hang out. That’s very different from contacting people I don’t know on LinkedIn, which seems creepy and dishonest. But as an introvert I have a hard time breaking the ice even when I’m hanging out with people at a conference, or in a training class or even at a social event. This is for me to get over, but do you have any suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

Write it down. And be honest.

When I started headhunting, I was fresh out of grad school. I had zero business experience and zero technology experience. But I was recruiting electronics engineers. I had to call people I didn’t know on the phone, introduce myself, and try to recruit them. It wasn’t dishonest, because I had jobs to fill, but talk about creepy!

Worse, I was an introvert. I was shy. I hated starting conversations because I never knew what to say. What if someone hung up?

Networking? Write it down.

My boss gave me a short script to use when I made those calls. I was embarrassed to recite it, but I realized I had to start somewhere. She told me not to worry if I “lost” someone that I called.

I read that script to people a few times until I realized it would be less creepy if I tweaked it a bit. So I did. Then I tweaked it some more. After a few more calls, I had re-written the thing so I sounded like me. Still, it was reassuring to read it rather than have to think about what to say.

Then something changed. After a few conversations with engineers, I learned just enough to be able to ask a couple of intelligent questions about their jobs, and I didn’t need the script any more. I also saw that engineers loved to talk about their work, so I didn’t have to say much. (Soon I learned that everyone likes to talk about their work, whether they love it, hate it, or are indifferent.)

Suddenly I was able to talk to engineers. In behavioral psychology we call that successive approximation of a desired behavior. Little by little, if you approximately perform the behavior of breaking the ice, you feel like you’ve accomplished something — and you get successively better at it. Pretty soon you’re actually doing it.

Networking? Be honest.

My breakthrough was when I realized engineers appreciate it when you don’t B.S. them. So I started admitting that I didn’t know what rotating memory was — could they please explain it? And, could they please explain to me what’s the difference between a microcomputer and a microprocessor?

Oh, they’d laugh — and then give me a short lesson in whatever I was asking about. They kidded me that I was the only headhunter who didn’t spout buzz words ignorantly. “You really want to know what we do!”

And that’s the other key: You must be honestly interested in other people and the work they do. If you’re not, don’t even try this. Find another area of work that does honestly interest you, and go talk to people about that.

Engineers took me under their wing. Pretty soon I was placing enough of them at better jobs that word got around I was the guy to talk to.

I know it’s corny, but I suggest you work up a script you feel okay about. Write it down. Try it out “live.” Pay attention to how people react when you try to break the ice. Tweak it til it feels good.

How to Say It

I suggest starting like this. Walk up to someone and say:

“Hi — So you work at ABC Co. What’s it like to work there?”

Let them talk, then ask:

How to Say It

“What would you say is your company’s biggest competitive advantage?”

Or,

“How does your company make the most of your [engineering] skills?”

Perhaps it seems corny. It’s not. It’s honest. You’re admitting you don’t know something you’re really interested in, and you’re asking. While someone might be rude and turn away, most people are sensitive to inquiring minds — as long as it’s not a personal topic. Work is open game.

Let them talk. They’ll ask you some questions. Just answer naturally. Ask more questions about their work. I like this one:

How to Say It

“What have you read or learned recently that has influenced how you do your job?”

All you’re doing is making conversation and getting to know someone. What makes it easy is that you’re letting them do the talking about something almost everyone likes to talk about: themselves.

I let go of my shyness when I realized I was fine asking people about their work, and talking about my work — so I stuck to that. Then I became more outgoing because I was no longer afraid of how people would respond to me.

We’re all different. I’m not suggesting my exact Hot to Say It tips will work for you. You must tweak them to suit who you are and how you talk. My boss said to me, “Stop resisting the script and just use it a few times until you come up with something better!”

Write it down to start. Tweak it — but keep at it. Just remind yourself: If something feels creepy, don’t say it or do it. (See Please! Stop Networking!) Be honest. Talk shop, be yourself, let other people do the talking at first. Pretty soon they’ll be laughing at the honesty of your questions and they’ll tell you what you need to know.

Once that happens, they’ll introduce you to their friends. If you’re looking for a new job, that’s where the fun starts!

If you need more help understanding how to connect with people comfortably, see the chapter “A Good Network Is A Circle of Friends” in How Can I Change Careers? (This PDF book isn’t just for career changers — it’s for anyone who wants to stand out to employers.)

Okay — what magic words do you use to break the ice? Even outgoing folks can get nervous introducing themselves to others. Are you shy and introverted? How do you do it?

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Is my MBA degree hurting me?

Quick Question

How do I overcome, on a resume or in an interview, the fact that my MBA is from the University of Phoenix? I graduated in 2006. UoP has received so much bad press that I’m concerned my education will not be taken seriously, and that it might be a detriment to my career advancement. Thank you for your advice.

Nick’s Quick Advice

What’s happened with UoP is unfortunate, but don’t let it get in your way.

It seems that MBA degrees have the most impact on hiring decisions when they come from big-name schools. Otherwise, they don’t seem to mean a lot “out of the box.” (That is, on your resume.) Of course, if you learned something while getting the MBA (like finance) that’s necessary for a job you want, then it may make a difference. I’m not knocking MBA degrees.

Putting UoP’s reputation aside, I think what matters more than any kind of degree is personal referrals and recommendations. That’s what gets you in the door. There is nothing like a personal, professional endorsement. Employers consistently say that’s the biggest factor, aside from the applicant’s skills and experience.

Likewise, contrary to the marketing hype, your resume is not your “marketing piece,” nor will it get you in the door. Used by itself, all it does is force you into the Resume Grinder where an algorithm will sort you among millions of your competitors.

Personal referrals are a much more powerful alternative.

You can’t change the name of the school on your MBA. But you can do a lot to leverage good referrals. For advice on how to do that, see Please stop networking.

There’s lots more advice on this topic in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition). See especially the sections titled:

  • “It’s the people, Stupid” pp. 5-8 (No, you’re not stupid, but this article will show you how people act stupidly when they don’t focus on  personal referrals.)
  • “Drop the ads and pick up the phone” pp. 9-11

Most important, to learn how to turn references into referrals, see:

  • “Don’t provide references — launch them” pp. 23-25

Don’t worry about your MBA. Just get to work on personal referrals. And be careful about where you buy your education!

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Network, but don’t be a jerk!

In the September 22, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we try to eliminate the jerk factor from networking.

Question

Everyone talks about networking as the best way to find the right job. There must be a key to this approach beyond just going to networking meetings and signing up with one of the online social networks. What advice can you give me about how to do it right?

Nick’s Reply

Last week (Please! Stop Networking!) I offered some How to Say It tips about starting legiitimate conversations with people you’d like to get to know.

jerkNow let’s talk about how not to be a jerk. What passes as “networking” today can make anyone a jerk. And, if you feel awkward about networking, it’s because you really don’t want to behave like a jerk!

Let’s look at some really stupid ways networking is sold to the public. And make no mistake — it’s sold because someone makes money at this.

Networking meetings

You have no doubt been to networking events where people spend a minute apiece with you, and then expect that you will introduce them to your closest business buddies. Such gatherings have gotten a bad reputation because they can be mercenary and impersonal.

What’s the point of meeting someone if you have no real common ground, and there’s no value in your connection because there are no shared experiences between you?

Online networks

The online social networks are even more problematic. (See LinkedIn: Just another job board.) You sign up, add the names of your co-workers, former employers and friends, and the network links you to other members with similar backgrounds.

But while networks like LinkedIn create lots of connections, there is little emphasis on the quality of those links.

And that’s the key: The quality of relationships. Social networks suggest that having lots of contacts is more important than having good contacts, and they help you highlight your number of links. Why? Because the networks themselves profit mainly from their size. The more members they have clicking on one another, the more ads and digital “services” they can sell. It’s an inherent contradiction and even a conflict.

But the people who benefit from online social networks are the same people who know how to turn a first meeting into a healthy, long term relationship. They know it requires a considerable investment. There’s nothing automated about it.

Phony networking has just one tenet: Behave like a selfish jerk. I think there are three tenets to real networking:

Common ground

First, it requires common ground. People must have something to share that is useful to others. The best place to start is with your work. Identify people who do the work you do (or want to do), then e-mail them, call them, meet them and talk with them about their work and your work. (Not about jobs.)

Value

Second, good networking is sustained by value. Five minutes sharing your elevator speech and business card is worthless.

What can you do to either help or genuinely engage another person? How about a tip that will enable her to be more productive? Or you can ask honest, sincere questions about the work she does. That identifies more common ground. You’ll either find it and build a relationship on it, or you won’t. Don’t fake it.

Time

Third, good networking takes time.This is what networkers have the most difficulty with. Trust grows between people through repeated good experiences. Once I trust you, I’ll draw you into my circle of friends — and that’s where valuable job referrals come from.

The best way to become well-connected is to meet and stay in touch with people who do the work you’re interested and who are good at what they do. Don’t go to them when you’re job hunting. Establish the kinds of relationships — and reputation — that make them want to come to you when they learn about a great job.

How can you put these three tenets of networking to good use to get the job you want?


In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), I discuss “How to make great personal contacts” (pp. 15-17):

“Personal contacts are the foundation of every business. Rather than wait for ‘opportunities’ to come along, learn to participate in your community — go meet people. Learn about their business, get their opinions and advice, and ask for introductions that will help you become a useful member of that community. Personal contacts begin with you reaching out. Start now.”


In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, I tackle the objection many people have: Networking is icky! Only if you behave like a jerk! This is from “Do I have to ‘kiss ass’ to get a job?” (pp. 2-:5):

“When you send a company your resume, you’re not demonstrating anything. All you’re saying is, ‘Here are my credentials, all typed up nicely. Now, you go figure out what the heck to do with me!’ (What’s ickier than that?) A personal contact is a filter that helps a manager find what he’s looking for. A personal contact quickly gives you an opportunity to actually show what you can do — it’s like a voucher that expresses your value and suggests how you will help the company.”


Is your networking based on creating common ground, adding value and investing a lot of time? How does networking work for you?

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Please! Stop Networking!

In the September 15, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader just doesn’t get all the fuss that’s called networking.

Question

I’ve been trying to find a mentor who understands networking better than I do. I just don’t get it. We are not expert in everything, and this is one area where I want to get some help. Can you give me some clarity about networking?

Nick’s Reply

networking

So much has been written and said about networking that networking has become a business, an industry, a racket of enormous proportions. Please! Stop doing what’s sold as “networking,” because it’s phony!

I want to barf every time I hear some silly lecture or read a pandering dissertation about how to network. Networking is not complicated. But networking has become over-defined.

Legit networking is simple: Talk shop with people who do work you want to do.

I’ll give you a few examples of what I mean.

You can meet people to talk shop online, in person, anywhere. If you read something about them in advance, just drop a quick note.

How to Say It
“Hey, I read this article about you and I see you’re working on… I’d love to know what you think about X? How’d you do what was described in the article? What are you reading lately that has influenced your work?”

If you’re talking with the person face to face, it’s even simpler.

How to Say It
“Tell me more about what you do… What kinds of challenges or problems did you encounter while working on that?”

The magic is in asking them to talk about themselves and their work. People love that, as long as you’re not being solicitous. And you won’t be if you just talk shop.

It takes time to make meaningful connections through these exchanges. Be patient. Don’t expect much, don’t expect it quickly, and good things will evolve in time. The best part: No matter what benefits you get or don’t get career-wise, you make new friends!

When you get to the point where you want to talk about your career challenges, here’s the magic sauce: Never ask for job leads. Never.

Instead, ask for advice and insight.

How to Say It
“May I ask your advice? If I wanted to shift over to doing XYZ [as your new job], what kind of advice would you give me? I’d love your insight about what it takes to be successful doing what you do.”

See the difference? Never say anything that feels icky or phony. There’s no begging, no asking for jobs or introductions. Results will come naturally — people will eventually suggest someone else that you should talk to. And that’s what to keep track of — people you’re referred to, who they are, where they work, what they do.

Beware, or I’ll never talk to you again
Then there’s the most important thing. If someone recommends a person that you should talk with, or offers an introduction or referral — always make the contact and do it quickly. Never let a personal referral die on the vine.

If I give you a referral, and I find out you didn’t follow up within 3-4 days, I’ll never do anything for you again. Usually, I’ll tip off the third party to expect a call or e-mail. When the person I’m trying to help doesn’t make that contact, I’ve wasted an introduction and I look bad. I can’t emphasize this enough — it’s the single biggest networking mistake people make. If you want good mentors in your life, do not squander the investment they make in you. (See Mentoring & Getting Mentored.)

Networking should be as easy as talking shop with people who do the work you want to do.

Next week, I’ll share my three ingredients for good, healthy networking. But, right now I’d like to know, What’s your way to get close to others professionally?

I’d love to assemble a list of to-dos, not-to-dos, and basic rules for making friends in the work world. Please post your advice and cautions!

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How can shy people make job contacts?

In the February 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to overcome shyness and capitalize on personal contacts as the path to a job.

Question

shyI am an intelligent, hardworking analyst who is also an introvert. Once I’m on the job, I’m fine and people like me. But getting contacts lined up to meet people to get the interview for the new job is difficult. There seem to be so many steps with so many people that I don’t know! I’ve read most of your web articles and haven’t seen this addressed. Do you have any pearls of wisdom for me?

Nick’s Reply

Believe it or not, I was quite introverted and shy when I was young. I would freeze up in front of a group. It was painful and embarrassing. Gradually, I realized I had to deal with other people, and I started listening to friends I trusted — they helped me practice appropriate behaviors. I’m still somewhat introverted, and sometimes I hesitate to initiate contact with others, but I’ve learned to behave in more outgoing ways. It doesn’t always work, but each time it does, I enjoy the rewards and I try to do it more.

I know quite a few folks who’ve tried Toastmasters groups to good effect. Toastmasters participants help one another hone their public speaking skills, working with one another in a safe, supportive setting. Their small successes make it easier for them to be a bit more outgoing with other individuals in public.

I don’t doubt being introverted can cause difficulties, but most human behavior is subject to conditioning and learning. (Sometimes the terms introversion and shyness are used loosely and interchangeably.) Look up social learning theory — you might find it intriguing and helpful. I had the good fortune to study under Dr. Albert Bandura at Stanford, and what I learned from his research about human behavior and modeling has had a profound effect on me.

The best advice I can offer is this: Think of one or two small behaviors that are more outgoing, then practice them as much as you can. For instance, walk up to someone (in an appropriate setting that doesn’t feel threatening to you) and say, “Hi, I’m [your name].” Reach out at the same time to shake hands. Then say, “I understand your work involves XYZ.” Then ask a simple, honest question about XYZ, and let them talk.

The secret to this technique (I hate calling it networking) is that most people love to talk about their work if you ask them. If they ask you about your work next, talk as much as you feel comfortable. If you get nervous, you can always just say, “Thanks, it was nice to meet you,” and move on.

The key to changing your thinking is to start by changing your behavior, but only one step at a time. Keep practicing. You’ll get to enjoy your little successes, and it will not seem phony or contrived as you get better at talking to others. This is the fundamental behavior behind meeting people to get job interviews.

Here’s an excerpt about making new contacts from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get In The Door (way ahead of your competition), (pp. 6):

Scope the community:
You could skip the resume submission step completely, but if it makes you feel good, send it in. Then forget about it.

More important is that you start to understand the place where you want to work. This means you must start participating in [your] community and with people who work in the industry you want to be a part of. [See Meet The Right People.]

Every community has a structure and rules of navigation. Figure this out by circulating. Go to a party. Go to a professional conference or training program. Attend cultural and social events that require milling around with other people (think museums, concerts, churches). It’s natural to ask people you meet for advice and insight about the best companies in your industry. But don’t limit yourself to people in your own line of work. The glue that holds industries together includes lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, printers, caterers and janitors. Use these contacts to identify members of the community you want to join, and start hanging out with them.

Jobs aren’t found on computer screens and in postings — or even on LinkedIn, which is, after all, no more “social” than a phone book. You actually have to get out and meet people face to face! Most jobs are found and filled through the personal contacts we make and turn to.

Do you find it hard to talk to people when you want to make professional contacts? How do you break the ice?

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Job Hunting: I’m lousy at selling myself!

When I created the new Fearless Job Hunting books, I packed almost 100 of the best Ask The Headhunter Q&As and advice columns into The Complete Collection. Even so, lots of great Q&As didn’t make the final cut — I just had to stop somewhere. This edition of the newsletter includes one of the Q&As I wish I’d had room to include in Fearless Job Hunting. I hope you enjoy it!

In the July 9, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks whether employers hire 64 year olds:

scared-of-sellingShouldn’t you be encouraging people to use headhunters like you, instead of trying to sell me on how I should do it for myself? I have no experience “selling” myself. Basically, while I’m a supreme analyst, I stink at people sales. While I’m absolutely great at crunching numbers (by the way, I loved your job board metrics discussion [CareerBuilder Is For Dopes] — very meaty and revealing), I’m not good at grabbing the people I need to meet, connecting with them, making the pitch, and closing the deal. That’s sales. I have limited experience. You are an expert.

So, why shouldn’t I utilize the best resource for the project? Why shouldn’t I utilize someone who could complete the project (finding me a job) in one tenth of the time it would take me to do the same thing?

It seems to me that using placement services is the best angle. But then again, what do I know? I’m an analyst. I like your ideas, and will give them a shot. It might take me a while to learn the techniques, but I’ll get there…

Nick’s Reply

The answer is in your last statement. It takes a while to get good at this.

It’s like dating — you can try an “introduction” service, and it may be helpful, but can you do that every time you want to meet someone (whether for a job or a date)? It’s far better to invest some time and energy in learning to do it yourself.

It’s one of the skills in life that’s important to learn. Don’t worry about how long it takes. I’ve been at this for a long time and I still don’t have it down. And I was very shy to start. I was lousy at making myself walk up to someone to start a conversation.

I’m not going to offer “how-to” advice about meeting and talking to people, but here are a few of my favorite books on the subject:

Influence: The psychology of persuasion by Robert Cialdini

How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less by Milo Frank

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi

I also recommend the Dale Carnegie program and Toastmasters. Both teach how to talk to people. It’s a lost art, but a key element of success. In my experience, the failure to communicate effectively is a root of personal and business failure.

As for headhunters, remember that they don’t work for you. They don’t find jobs for people. They find the right people for their corporate clients. Even “consulting companies,” which I think you’re referring to, are not the best solution. You might get lucky getting others to find work for you, but you’re better off learning how to do it yourself.

Yep, it takes time. But it can be enjoyable. And once you learn to do it, no one can take it away from you. But I disagree. It’s not sales. You can’t think of it that way, or it tastes sour. You can’t create a relationship by selling. You do it by engaging someone on a subject you have in common and that’s meaningful to you.

In other words, you make a friend, and Poof! a sale has happened. Think of it as an artifact, not a process or an objective.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a position through a consulting service, or via any channel that works for you. But you know the old saw: You can feed a person, or you can teach them how to fish. I’m glad you intend to give it a shot, so you can always feed yourself.

Thanks for your compliment about CareerBuilder Is For Dopes. I’m not an analyst or numbers guy — that stuff comes hard to me. I’m always afraid I’m missing some analytical angle and getting the conclusion wrong. If an analyst like you finds it meaty and compelling, then I guess I got the analysis right!

Hang in there. Forget about selling. Think about getting to know people. Big hint: People love it when you ask them about their work. It’s a hop and a jump to asking for insight and advice. And that’s where new friendships — and new jobs — come from.


(This is one of the Q&As that didn’t make it into the Fearless Job Hunting books You’ll find almost 100 more in-your-face ways to overcome the daunting obstacles that stop other job hunters dead in their tracks in Fearless Job Hunting: The Complete Collection.)


Do you feel awkward “selling yourself?” What do you do about it? Post your fears and comments below…

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