What Valentine’s Day can teach you about networking

VDay

In nine days, the world’s nation’s biggest commercial holiday dedicated to romance will be rung in with dinner reservations, above average flower sales and jewelry store sales. What Christmas and Thanksgiving are for families, Valentine’s Day is for lovers.

It’s probably also the peak time for “cuffing season.”

For the uninitiated, cuffing season is defined by Urban Dictionary:

During the Fall and Winter months people who would normally rather be single or promiscuous find themselves along with the rest of the world desiring to be “Cuffed” or tied down by a serious relationship. The cold weather and prolonged indoor activity causes singles to become lonely and desperate to be cuffed.

While there may be some degree of success this as it relates to finding someone to spend Valentine’s Day with, if you’ve waited until December or January to try to find somebody to manufacture some semblance of a meaningful relationship for February, your mileage may vary.

Networking to advance your career is the same way.

You can’t decide today that you want to make a connection for a job you need tomorrow. Just like you can’t decide to search for a meaningful Valentine’s date right before the big day. Life just doesn’t work like that.

Learn to earn
Yes, people hire and refer people for jobs that they know. The keyword in that sentence, is know. In other words, don’t hit people up for jobs when you first meet them. The University of Pittsburgh’s law school site puts this in crystal clear times and also lists a great alternative: Learning about people before you ask them for something.

Ask your contacts for information, not jobs. Do not back these wonderful people into corners by demanding jobs that are not theirs to offer. Asking your contact for a job or for job leads makes that person uncomfortable, and people tend to avoid discomfort and the people who cause it. Instead, ask for information about various career opportunities, particular firms or industries, or geographical areas.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. If you’re talking directly to a hiring manager or human resources professional, it behooves you to tell them you’re looking for work because they exist to fill positions.

Step your social media game up

LinkedIn offers an amazing way to make new connections. While the site tacitly frowns upon contacting someone you don’t know, you aren’t penalized for reaching out to new people (unless they report you). Don’t send a generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network” request. Personalize your pitch. Tell the person who you are, why you’re reaching out to them and suggest an action (informational interview, phone call etc.). Make sure your profile is complete. Tips for an eye-catching LinkedIn profile can be found here.

It’s the quantity quality of your connections

This one is more for the introverted among us. Having one connection in your industry is infinitely better than thirty connections unrelated to where you want to be in life. If you’re out an event, or even online, focus on making one quality connection and cultivate that relationship (see step one). If you’re more outgoing, make it three – or as many as you can competently handle at one time. But make it a goal to meet at least one person during every outing.

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Just like meaningful romantic relationships take time to build, so do meaningful professional relationships. Yes, emergencies happen and you may need to find a job on short notice, but the best time to start networking (and by default, hunting for your next job) is when you’re not actively looking for work. When you don’t need anything from people, you have more time to get to know who they are, what they do and what you can do for them. Being of service to others is the key to networking success.

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