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One of the most important career management skills you can develop is the ability to network. Unfortunately, for some, the thought of "working a room" or placing business cards into other people's hands can be downright intimidating. But networking doesn't require bold tactics to be effective. In fact, it's this perception -- and others -- that discourage many job seekers from networking in the first place.
If you let these myths deter you, you may miss out on making important professional contacts and, as a result, career advancement opportunities.
Following are some common perceptions about networking. How well can you separate fact from fiction?
It's "old school."
Fiction. To the contrary, there's clear evidence that networking is gaining popularity. Nearly half (48 percent) of professionals polled by Robert Half International said they're doing more professional networking now than three years ago, perhaps because workers know the vast majority of jobs are never advertised anywhere; instead they are filled through word of mouth. You need to be an extrovert.
Fiction. You don't have to be especially gregarious or outgoing to make meaningful connections in your industry. If crowds make you uncomfortable, consider creating your own networking opportunities. Invite several of your friends or co-workers to lunch and request that they bring along two other contacts. A more intimate setting may help put you at ease. If you feel shy or flustered, ask questions to shift attention away from yourself. Since most people enjoy talking about themselves, you'll have no trouble keeping the discussion rolling.
Networking is time-consuming.
Fiction. Trade shows and meet-and-greet events aren't the only venues to forge new relationships. You can -- and should -- reach out to people while going about your normal routine -- waiting in line at the supermarket or pumping iron at the gym, for example. Don't miss the opportunity to make conversation with those you meet outside of professional settings; valuable contacts can come from any number of sources.
Only face-to-face interactions pay off.
Fiction. Virtual chat rooms and discussion lists are an excellent way to network with your peers and obtain specific information and advice from the comfort of your own home or office. Becoming a member of an online community, like Friendster or LinkedIn, also can lead to serendipitous -- yet useful -- connections. Just be sure to be polite in all of your interactions and offer useful information to your contacts.
Small talk is a turnoff.
Fiction. Many people cringe at the prospect of making small talk, but it's often the first step to getting a more meaningful conversation started. You don't have to limit yourself to topics like the weather or your alma mater. Ask potential contacts whether they've taken any interesting vacations or eaten at the new restaurant down the street -- anything you'd genuinely be interested in learning about. Also, prepare some stories of your own to share, such as a quirky news item you've come across or celebrity encounter you once had, in case your conversation partner is a bit bashful.
Your contacts will be annoyed if you ask for help.
Fiction. Asking people for information and advice is hardly bothersome, as long as you do so gracefully. In fact, 37 percent of workers polled by Robert Half International said the biggest mistake people make when networking is not asking for help. When soliciting assistance, make it easy for the other person. For instance, if you ask someone to serve as a professional reference, provide that person with a copy of your résumé and let him or her know when a potential employer might be calling.
It's just as important to give as it is to receive.
Fact. Consistently serving as a resource to others is the most effective way to forge long-term relationships. Offer to help whenever you can and always respond promptly to the requests you receive. Forwarding relevant news articles and information to your contacts is another way to build rapport and stay in touch. Many job seekers limit the effectiveness of their networking efforts by believing in myths more than themselves. Overcoming these misconceptions will help you make the most of your activities and develop a circle of long-lasting professional contacts.
Robert Half International Inc. is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 330 offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.rhi.com.
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