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Networking: A Critical Success Factor if You’re 50+ and Looking for a Job

Networking: A Critical Success Factor if You’re 50+ and Looking for a Job
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BY STEVE NUBIE

Many people who are 50+ have a great resume. What many don’t realize is that their greatest strength is their network of connections.

There’s an old adage that we’ve all heard. “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” As much as we may have considered that idea with contempt in the past, it’s essentially true in the context of networking.

Networking is the simple act of reaching out to the people you know in an effort to find advice, a job lead or ideas about future employment. The fact of the matter is that we count many people in our network as friends, and they will often make extra efforts to help or surprise you with an opportunity they’ve come across.

What’s critical to understand is that networking takes time. You can’t expect to send out a message to your network or friends and expect that any of them will respond with a job offer or a job lead. But if you ask them in the right way, they will think about you if an opportunity shows up in the future. And that’s really the whole idea.

Get started with networking

I served as an executive coach and career counselor for 7 years at a company called Kensington International. Many of the candidates I advised were surprised when we first discussed the subject of networking. A lot of them thought it was all about LinkedIn. I would mention that LinkedIn is a good networking resource, but they needed to dig deeper.

Your network audit 

Your first step towards effective networking begins with an audit of who you know. The types of people may surprise you. This isn’t just about past business associates and clients. This includes your doctor, minister or rabbi, friends and neighbors, family, your old high school baseball coach and anyone else who you feel you have a connection to

Make a list and see how well you can track down their phone numbers, email addresses, or use social networks like facebook and LinkedIn to reconnect. All you’re doing at this point is capturing your network on paper or in a spreadsheet on your computer.

Figure out what you want to say to them

A good practice for this effort is something called a handbill. It’s one sheet of paper where you very concisely describe the kind of job you’re looking for, the job-title, a brief explanation of why you’re pursuing the position and why you think you’re right for it. This is what you will send out to your network when you alert them that you are seeking employment and are looking for their help.

Managing the message

Do not send this out as a mass-mailing or a general post on facebook or LinkedIn. This is especially true if you’re currently employed or under-employed. This is a private matter. Also, when someone receives a one-to-one piece of communication from you they are more likely to respond. If everyone you know is copied on the same email, or it’s addressed to “All my friends on facebook and LinkedIn” it’s easier to ignore or assume someone else will step up to help.

You should also keep track of what you sent to whom and when in addition to any replies or response. This will help you follow-up more effectively, thank people who have responded, and find gentle ways to stay on their radar screen.

Managing your radar screen

Think of this as your networking dashboard. After you’ve sent out your handbill as an initial inquiry, think of positive ways to stay top-of-mind with your network. This could be an article you write about a subject, your recollection of an interesting story or experience related to your occupation or the job you’re seeking, or a link to something new and interesting about the business or the category. Avoid the temptation to resend your handbill or inquire if someone has “found anything for me yet?” There are polite and subtle ways to stay on their radar screen without coming off like a pest or desperate.

Understanding the true strength of your network 

While people in your network may be able to provide job leads, they can offer you significant support in another way. In fact, this is one of those times where a large-scale, broadcast message across social networks like facebook and LinkedIn is both appropriate and important. Here’s the scenario:

You have found a job either online or in some other way and applied. It’s most likely you did the online application which we covered in a previous article. This method of applying can be frustrating especially if you come across the “dream” job or the position you were “born to do.” That’s the time to send out a brief message across your network and say:

“I just applied for a position at the XYZ Corporation. This would be my dream job and I have all of the qualifications. Does anybody know someone who works at this company. I would be so grateful and appreciative for a name, an introduction or a recommendation. Thanks so much, and please let me know.”

You may be pleasantly surprised to find a number of positive responses from, “My brother-in-law works there!” to “My old boss is the running the place. I’ll put in a good word.” Of course you should follow up with an immediate thank you and get the details.

This is actually the greatest strength of networking. Having someone in your network who can help you get your foot in the door. In a perfect world they give you an introduction, recommendation and a reference. But don’t get greedy, you may just get a name and the opportunity to reference your network connection.

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