Networking 101 – not just a buzzword (1/3)

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As I have mentioned before, I have made a bit of a career out of working 7-8 months of the year and then taking the summers off. For almost 5 years now I have been able to snag a lucrative contract (or 2!) during the school year by networking.

Ugh. Networking. Of course, half of you are cringing at that word and I totally get that. If you are anywhere near my age (30s-40s) you remember the 80s where networking was the buzzword of the decade and smarmy handshakes, business card exchanges, and “let’s do lunch! Have your people call my people!” Even as a super-extroverted, extrovert, it makes me cringe too much to even consider being anything like that.

It wasn’t until I was a few jobs into my part-time career that I realized that I was actually networking all time and just didn’t notice it. When I was at parties and someone mentioned they were in my field I did my best to engage them on that topic and kvetch about things that affected our industry. When I knew people worked at organizations I was interested in, I told them that I had always been interested in their company and asked them to keep me in mind if anything came up. Just conversations, no pressure, no aggressive tactics.

Conversely, I was at a party once and one of the other partygoers learned that my husband worked in the same field as him. He then cornered Mr. Tucker and berated him with questions about his job before whipping out a USB key with his resume on it – in word, PDF, and HTML formats – and insisted that Mr. Tucker plug it into his laptop (he was on call that night so was traveling with hardware) and take his CV to see if my husband could find him work. Awkward. Awkward, and super inappropriate.

With proper networking, all you really are doing is sowing the seeds and putting yourself out there. When you put the idea in people’s heads that you are available to work and that you are interested, they often remember when something comes up. I once made a joke on facebook, “Anyone looking for a bilingual person with a security clearance to lay on a couch all day?” that status turned into two healthy leads – and I was making a joke!

Over the next week I’ll post both the do’s and don’ts of networking that have worked for me over the past 5 years. I hope it’s helpful, and of course I am always looking for new tips, tricks and ideas. Stay tuned!