Robert Fulghum distilled life’s wisdom into simple but profound principles in his bestselling book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Fulghum contends that if we merely remember basic rules we learned as children (like sharing, playing fair, and cleaning up our own messes) the world would be a better place.
I was reminded of these simple truths during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 when unemployment rose and so did anxiety, especially for those in job transition. As I witnessed my husband Scott’s 18-month journey through transition, I realized that his eventual success had more to do with how he treated people, his ability to differentiate himself and his own attitude — and less to do with polishing his resumé.
6 Principles for Job-Search Networking
I may have the credential as the career development “expert” in our house, but Scott showed me a thing or two about what’s really important in a job search. In the spirit of Fulghum’s simple guidelines, I’d like to offer my own summary of six important principles that surfaced for us from Scott’s experience:
1. Be genuine. Sometimes job seekers get so focused on being the “right” candidate for a job that they lose their own identity in the process. Hiring managers often see through a false persona and credibility can take a hit if a person isn’t seen (or felt) as honest.
One of Scott’s networking contacts commented how refreshing it was to meet someone who was the “real deal.” This person ended up being a tremendous advocate for Scott in paving the way to additional contacts.
Perfect, scripted answers to interview questions can never take the place of being authentic.
2. Be considerate. Networking remains the most effective strategy for getting reemployed. But it’s a two-way street; networking is about building relationships. When job seekers focus too much on their sales pitch and don’t attend to the person with whom they are networking, it can come across as self-serving and shallow.
Be respectful of your contacts’ time, listen, say “thank you,” keep in touch and return the favor. Scott’s willingness to pay it forward with his networking associates helped him develop lasting relationships with them.
3. Differentiate by being proactive. My firm recommends clients do company research before an interview. Scott took this a step further and actually talked with people in the field, including customers of the business. Then, during his job interview, Scott was able to provide insight into the key buying criteria of a particular client the company was trying to woo.
As a result, he demonstrated important skills the company needed and showed a customer-centric attitude.
4. Keep a positive attitude. I truly believed in Scott’s abilities and knew he would land a job, but it was difficult to be patient. Scott focused on his strengths, knew what he wanted and trusted that each networking contact and application would bring him one step closer to his goal.
5. Use your imagination. While Scott listened in his networking meetings, he sometimes noticed areas where he could contribute. By freely lending his expertise, forwarding articles and even making connections for the person he was networking with, Scott demonstrated his genuine interest. At times, he wound up parlaying a networking connection into a paid consulting project. So not only did he help his new clients, he expanded his practical experience into new industries.
6. Communicate often. Letting people know how a lead panned out, offering regular updates and staying in touch — all of which Scott did admirably — are important to maintaining a relationship and staying top of mind.
It’s amazing how many job seekers have a “one and done” approach to networking, making it easy for contacts to forget them down the road when they may have a job lead.
The Happy Ending
This story, I’m delighted to say, has a happy ending. Scott landed a great job — he’s been with the company for six years now. We are grateful for the people who helped along the way, and are committed to giving back and returning the favor for others.
While the road was long, and the path winding, it was a journey of growth for Scott (and for me). And we learned that in the end, when you’re looking for a job, it is the simple but profound things that make all the difference.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Minnesota Career Development Association’s Fall 2009 Newsletter.