Networking: Overcoming the Fear of Being Labeled a "User"

Many people are hesitant about using people or asking for help. However, networking should be viewed as a communication process -- exchanging and receiving advice and referrals about jobs. Many people these days consider it foolish not to use contacts, and those in a position to help you might even be insulted that they were not asked for assistance. People like to help others. It makes them feel good, powerful and important. By establishing a specific and relevant basis for a meeting -- asking for ideas, opinions, a reaction to your own thoughts -- there is no reason for you to be turned down. Ask for something specific, something doable.

Consider the following sample approaches to potential contacts:

* To a geographic contact: You have lived in this city for so long and know almost everyone...

* To a socially active friend: You have so many friends, you probably hear about things before anyone...

* To someone who works in your field: Youve been working in the same type of job I am looking for, I am sure you have some idea how my skills might be viewed...

* To a professor: You know better than anyone what kinds of jobs are open in this field...

* To anyone you admire: You always seem to have good ideas...

* To someone you have helped: We have helped each other in the past, so I am hoping you can help me now...

Since much of professional life operates on the "favor system," establish a reputation for being helpful. Pass along useful information or introduce contacts to people you have met along the way that could be helpful to them. Look for ways to build bridges. People will remember your thoughtfulness and will be likely to return the favor. Busy professionals understand the system and they know that with just a little time and some guidance from you they can evaluate you for their own needs or those of their colleagues while still satisfying your request for information. Both you and the other person receive something. Therefore, don't feel guilty about approaching busy people for help; they will enjoy it and you will benefit by it. If you are doubtful, consider whether you would be willing to share your knowledge or give names to friends or business associates in order to be helpful.

You should be concerned with the process of building and using networks as a permanent aspect of your career, not just a technique you use for finding jobs and advancing your career. Keep in touch with people you meet. Drop them a note occasionally or send them an article you saw that made you think of them. When you do land a job, let your contacts know. Do not wait until you need something from them. It is important to develop, use and nurture personal relationships on a daily basis throughout your career.

Excerpted from Jobs for Lawyers by Hillary Jane Mantis & Kathleen Brady (Impact Publications 1996).