I'm just a shy introvert in need of a job
February 1, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Networking - how long until I'm "one of the gang"?

I'm unemployed and struggling desperately to find work. I've never had to network for a job before (yes, shocking, I know) so I never developed any professional relationships. As a shy and introverted person, this is a huge hurdle for me. I attend local organization meetings and talk to some people who seem nice, but I don't think there's any real connection since so few keep tabs with me. I try not to flat-out ask everyone I meet for a job, but when is it okay to do so? Would it be best to approach people who are directly in charge of hiring?

Also, I'm entry level in my field so that's another strike against me. I'm working on expanding my IT resume and porfolio, and would even consider unpaid internships at this point just so I could get some more work under my belt. How do I not appear desperate when that's precisely the case?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Try to find ways to interact that are more pointed and focused than general networking events. For example, informational interviews might be a good option, or joining a fun/volunteer group to work on IT projects together.

Networking events can be uncomfortable because they're so open-ended and everyone is there for different reasons. Narrowing the focus - and the number of people - will probably make you shine more.
posted by beyond_pink at 10:42 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: this answer may be complete BS. It is what I think I know now, years after the last uncomfortable networking event I attended, at which I felt much the way you seem to be feeling. The following is based on insights I think I have gained since I was last in your position:

Don't put the people you meet at these events on a pedestal just because they're employed. There are lots and lots of people like you who are searching for work. The tight market means that the great majority of the people you talk to at such events don't have a job to offer no matter how much they like you. Some of them are whistling past the graveyard, averting their eyes from the desperation they know they could easily face if their company's fortunes turned the wrong way. Many won't have the heart to tell you anything that's not encouraging, even if they can't think of something encouraging to say.

Go in with the intent to gather information, not to find immediate employment. Ask people for what they can easily and freely give, i.e. insights and suggestions, not jobs. Psych yourself up to tolerate the truth about the market for your skills, even if the truth is uncomfortable. Don't put people in the position where they have to either disappoint you or lie to you.

Keep in mind that nobody is going to offer you a job based on one brief chat; there is too much at stake. Neither will they risk their own reputation on your behalf by recommending you (a stranger, really) to a colleague on the basis of a brief chat. If you have a good chat with someone, ask whether they have time in their schedule to talk to you again -- infomational interviews, etc. You want to be the person someone thinks of when they hear about a job requiring your skills, so cultivate relationships and let the relationships find the job.
posted by jon1270 at 12:51 PM on February 1, 2011

Networking is not a magical dowsing rod used to find your next gig, it's an investment in forming relationships with your peers. It helps because it is mostly true that people (a) tend to think of their friends when an opportunity arises that seems perfect for them, and (b) because, all else being equal, people who have heard of you are more likely to hire you than someone they've never heard of.

It takes as long to be "one of the gang" as it does to form any other relationship. Deep friendships are the best thing, but strong professional respect will also work. Bonus points if, when you talk shop, you provide useful information that promotes your expertise.

I'm a lawyer. It took me five years to become president of the local bar association in the town where I work. I got my current job after six years of practice because I met my boss through a mutual friend in the field, and because we both did some contract work for this mutual friend. My job developed after a short running gag about how cool it would be if I could work at the same firm. When I mentioned that the joke would be even better if there really was a job, one materialized.
posted by Hylas at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding volunteering. If you take it seriously and treat it with the same professionalism and dedication that you would for a job, people will notice, and at the very least, you'll get great references which is especially helpful if your resume is a little light on experience.
posted by marsha56 at 1:58 PM on February 1, 2011

Go in with the intent to gather information, not to find immediate employment. Ask people for what they can easily and freely give, i.e. insights and suggestions, not jobs.

This is so, so true. It's probably not the case that anyone at the networking event is in a position to give you a job, unless your field is HR. That's not really how networking works, at least not how I've experienced it. It's another reason why you don't need to limit yourself to networking events (which I personally think are more helpful for people who already have jobs and want to meet colleagues in similar positions, vs. people looking for a job)--even if you're an introvert you should know some people who you're connected to directly or through friends/family/school/church/organizations you belong to that would be willing to give you advice and suggestions. That's where you start, contacting these people to ask for something relatively low-stakes for them to give, like advice. If none of your friends or family are in your field, ask them if they know anybody in that they'd be willing to put you in contact with. Rinse, repeat. Volunteering is another great way to meet new people who can help you directly or put you in contact with others who might be able to help you.

My second piece of advice to expand on the above: the staying-in-contact and thanking-for-their-time piece of networking that happens AFTER the event or initial contact is the really critical part of networking. Think of it this way: networking is back-and-forth volley that starts out with low stakes and builds its way up. If you're the only person who is getting something out of it, then you're doing it wrong; the other party should at a bare minimum be getting the warm fuzzies because you're letting them know that their initial help is indeed helpful and you appreciate it. (For the love of god, don't ask someone for advice or to review your resume then NEVER RESPOND TO THEIR HELPFUL COMMENTS TO SAY THANK YOU. I can't believe how many entry-level people from my alma mater do this and it's so disrespectful and maddening, plus it means there's basically zero chance I'm going to be forwarding on to them opportunities I run across.)

The back-and-forth of networking should look like this:

1. Can I get some advice on breaking into field X? Thank you that's very helpful!

2. [A few days or week later:] I really appreciated your advice on how to break into the field; I didn't realize that Company X and Company Y were the places that most people start. If you have some time, I'd really love it if you could look over my resume and let me know if I'm presenting myself in the best way or if I'm unknowingly raising red flags. Thank you that is very helpful!

3. [A few weeks later] I've been applying to a couple of organizations, including X Y and Z, but no bites so far. Do you know any other companies in this field I should be checking out? Thanks, that's very helpful!

4. [After some period of time, out of the blue, you get a lovely email!] Oh wow, you heard about a job from your friend Bob and thought I might like to apply? I would definitely love to apply! [Variation if this person is well-known to company or in field:] Do you mind if I let them know that I heard about the job from you/Bob? Anything I should know about how to put my best foot forward?

5. [After you apply for and get the job you never would have known about otherwise:] THANK YOU SO MUCH, I GOT THE JOB. Please accept this bottle of wine / box of chocolates / dinner out as a token of my appreciation. I couldn't have done it without you!
posted by iminurmefi at 2:47 PM on February 1, 2011 [13 favorites]

Seconding what iminurmefi said. Also, have you looked into contacting recruiters for work? They'll be more inclined to help you since that's how they get paid. But you'll have to sort the wheat from the chaff - some of them don't care about helping entry-level workers (I've come across a few while struggling to find UX work,) but some of them do care and can be the nicest people you've ever encountered. Perhaps you can make it a goal to find the latter ASAP and nurture a relationship with them. Let them get to know you, send them your portfolio and resume so they can give you pointers on how to make it better. Be sure to polish up your presentation for in-person interviews as well.
posted by Anima Mundi at 3:02 PM on February 1, 2011

When i was desperately looking for work, i applied at all the temp agencies in my city. I had to go in and do some basic computer tests, and then i had an interview so they could see who i was, then when they needed someone to do casual labour, they called, i ALWAYS said yes, then i went and worked.

this was awesome for a few reasons:
1) i was working enough not to feel that scary panicky desperation about being broke and unemployed. (i cannot stress this enough. this really saved me.)
2) my days were filled with activities, which structured my time better
3) i got to meet LOTS of different people in lots of different areas, which filled me with inspiration and ideas of what field i might want to work in. they knew i was looking for work and some people introduced me to other people who wanted to hire someone.
4) it was easy to impress people. the jobs they gave me were fairly simple and they were impressed by how efficient and friendly i could be. this felt good to me at the time, and reminded me that just because i didn't actually HAVE a job, didn't mean that i was unemployable.
5) i went to work at an amazing company one day, and it turned out they were hiring! i basically made myself indispensable, and they hired me.

good luck! eventually, you WILL get a job, and you won't worry about this stuff any more!
posted by andreapandrea at 8:07 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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