How to not burn through your network

Closeup of guy working on a laptop indoor

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

I'm being laid off in a month. So, I've been networking like crazy and have already had a couple telephone interviews, but nothing seems to be moving forward. I'm really concerned about burning through my network in a few weeks and then what do I do? Adding new contacts seems obvious, but there are only so many people within my field.

You are wise to be cautious. The last thing you want to do is annoy your contacts. Remember, people don't give other people jobs to make them go away, they give them jobs to make them stay. You want people to like and respect you, not groan each time your phone number appear on their caller ID or your name pops up in their email.

But, there aren't an infinite number of people who can help you. And, only some of those people who could help you actually will help you. Job search expert and author of the Two Hour Job Search, Steve Dalton, calls these people "Boosters." These are people who are driven to help you for social reasons, not because they feel obligated or see something in it for them. Although, you shouldn't reject people who are willing to help you for their own selfish reasons. These people sometimes have positions to fill and you may well be the best person for that job.

But, how to find these people? For that I turned to HR expert Judy Lohr. First, you need to ask for help. Her suggestion:

Contact the person you want to network with and ask if they have a few minutes to spare for you. Recognizing how busy your contacts are is respectful and they are more likely to respond. Reassure them up front that you aren't asking for a job, you're asking for help. Let them know a little bit about what's going on with you and your situation. Ask them if they can spend some time to meet with you, or have a phone conversation. You want them to respond and agree to meet, so keep it simple and compelling. Advise them you will send an agenda for the meeting so they know what to expect, and also send them your one page marketing tool (brief summary of your skills, accomplishments, brief work history, desired titles or positions, and target companies) or your professional bio. If you tell them this up front, they will get the idea that you're not asking them for a job and will be more likely to help.

These are all important things, especially the agenda. Very few people have days with nothing to do and are thrilled when people show up to shoot the breeze. By presenting an agenda, they know what you want to talk about and if they will be able to help you. Lohr suggests the following for an agenda:

1. Your purpose or objective in meeting (obtaining help)
2. Discussion of your situation and why you need help.
3. Review of your professional bio or one page marketing tool so they know where you're coming from.
4. Discuss how they can help you. Ask if they know of companies you should target in your field, if there's someone in particular they recommend you talk to (see if they have the contact information), or for any ideas on what else they think you should do, or avenues you haven't thought of.
5. Find out if there's any way you can help them. This is one of the most important steps -- to help others as well as yourself.
6. Leave space on the agenda to include follow up items or suggestions for additional activities they think you should do. Examples include taking seminars or courses to hone or supplement your skills, volunteer experiences, involvement in local governmental meetings, joining professional groups, etc.

Now, keep in mind that not everyone you contact will have time for a meeting. In that case, you can do the same over the phone or via email. This method allows you to grow your contact list. You'll be surprised at who knows whom and what people are willing to do for you.

But, also don't limit yourself to just people in your field. In a strange chain of events, my real estate agent connected me with a friend of his who was looking for a job as a quality assurance scientist. If this guy had thought, "Oh, Mike's a real estate agent, he can't help me find a scientist job," he would have missed out. Mike knew that I worked in pharmaceuticals, which employs a lot of  scientists. By telling even unlikely people what he was looking at, he was able to land a job in his desired field.

Networking can be difficult and draining, especially for introverts. But, it is the way to go. Word of mouth is so much more effective than filling out application after application online. Your network will grow and, in return some day you'll be able to help other people as well. Make sure you become a Booster as well.

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