A recent survey reveals that a third of Londoners feel that their job is less secure than it was a month ago. The figures are slightly less in the rest of the country. We hear that many thousands of young people have failed to get a place at university because the number of places has been cut. A young person I know recently went for a job in a publishing company and was one of 320 applicants. She reached the last six but the job was given to someone who had done two years unpaid work experience. It's really tough out there, and when jobs are few and applicants are many you need to find ways of getting your head above the crowd.
One way of doing this is to have contacts. It's always a good time to make contacts, whether you're looking for work or not, but never more so than at times of change.
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Develop your networking skills
If you think it's unfair that some people are advantaged in the workplace through having contacts, you're right, but put yourself in employers' shoes - if you have hundreds of applicants for a job, would you prefer to give it to someone you don't know from Adam, or to someone you've met and know is good? It doesn't matter how many equal opportunities policies there are, at the end of the day employers are human beings who make human decisions. The good news is that everybody has contacts, it's just a question of identifying and using them.
If you're a naturally outgoing person, networking is probably quite fun for you. If you're a quiet, introverted type, you would probably rather jump off Beachy Head than pick up the phone to someone you've never met. The good news is that there are ways of networking that suit every type.
Here are some tips on networking from my book, 'Finding Square Holes':
The secret for all types is to start with the contacts you have. Even if you can't think of anyone you know directly who can help you, ask the people you do know and you will be amazed at how many resources you have at your disposal before you make a single cold contact. Every time you talk to someone ask 'who else do you think it would be good to talk to?' If they can give you a personal introduction, so much the better. Often people are reluctant to make contacts, worrying that people are too busy or important to want to talk to little old them, but the truth is that most people love to be asked for help. And they can always say 'no'.
Conferences and meetings are good places to make new contacts. Check the delegate list, and make a list of people you'd like to speak to. If you're not a natural mixer it's tempting to gravitate to the people you know, but once you've forced yourself to talk to new people a few times it becomes easier, partly because you have a few experiences under your belt which you have miraculously survived, but also because you start to accrue the benefits.
Use any of the social networking sites to contact people working in the areas that interest you.
If you like writing, find publications that suit your subject matter and submit articles.
Tips for making the most of your contacts with people
Go with a 'giving' attitude
Imagine going to see someone hoping that they'll give you a job. Notice how that feels. Now imagine going to see that person thinking, 'what would I love to offer this person, or their customers?' Notice the difference.
If you want to make a good impression on someone, or to get their co-operation, then show a genuine interest in them. Make a list of questions you'd like to ask them.
The corollary of this is, beware of the temptation to talk about yourself. If you come out of an encounter having imparted more information than you have gained, then you need to review your technique.
Be prepared for rejection
If you follow these tips most of your experiences will be positive, and you will be well on your way to becoming one of those people who, only months before, used to appal you with their shameless networking. From time to time, though, there are going to be people who don't want to talk to you, who aren't remotely interested in you, and who clearly have larger fish to fry. You may have found them on a bad day or at a bad time, in which case you could try approaching them on another occasion. They may have their own networking agenda, and you are interrupting them. Or they may be one of those rare people who take more pleasure in making people feel small than they do in helping. It's helpful to remember that these people invariably have feelings of inadequacy which they try to overcome by feigning superiority. Whatever the reason, the important thing is not to take any of these rejections personally. Simply accept that it is going to happen from time to time, and move on.
Make networking a habit
Although networking is especially important when you are searching for career direction and jobs, it helps in all areas of life, and at all stages. Networking within a workplace enables you to keep an eye on what is going on politically and socially, it gives you access to people who have skills and resources, and it establishes a foundation for relationships that may prove useful in the future. Networking at home supplies neighbours who will look after the cat when you're away, parents who will collect your children from school when you've been held up in a meeting, names of local traders for those plumbing and electrical disasters. Make networking a habit and you will be regularly thankful that you have.
Let me know how you get on, and
have a good week!