Learn the basics of networking


Your motto should be: Network now and forever.

With the help of others, you will achieve more goals in less time than you would alone. These goals may include:

*Landing new jobs. The change in administrations and the ongoing retirement wave will generate unprecedented work-force churn, turnover and hiring for years to come. Position yourself to exploit resulting opportunities by meeting and impressing key contacts who may create jobs for you, tell you about openings you would not otherwise learn about, provide references or push your application to the top of the pile.

*Accessing key resources and people. Many potentially pivotal people who would not otherwise give you the time of day will generously extend themselves for you if they meet you through mutual acquaintances or organizations. Therefore, no matter what you are doing — whether you are working to promote events, services or products, seeking legal advice, or trying to schedule an appointment with an overbooked doctor — you may advance your cause by tapping your networking connections.

*Obtaining advice. By stuffing your Rolodex with people who may share with you their good judgment and specialized expertise when needed, you will exponentially increase your ability to make wise choices and solve problems.

*Managing crises. The poster boy for this principle is Elliot Spitzer: He might still be New York’s governor if not for his penchant for alienating other power-brokers and the resulting refusal of any luminaries to publicly defend him after his recent scandal. By contrast, the disgraced but generally less reviled Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was able to keep his Senate seat even after promising to resign.

Some high-impact networking techniques:

*Help run alumni and professional organizations. The more you contribute to these organizations, the more camaraderie you will share with your fellow members and the more mutually beneficial relationships you will cultivate. Also, the more you display your skills via professional organizations, the more likely you will be to impress managers who may want to hire you.

An example of this principle’s success: The producer of an alumni organization newsletter applied for a federal communications job. The hiring manager happened to be an alumnus who regularly read the newsletter and found it informative and well-written. The applicant’s proven communication skills helped vault her ahead of the competition and she got the job.

Alternatively, you may work to intentionally generate serendipity: I know, for example, a communications specialist who spent three months unsuccessfully searching for a Capitol Hill job. But within three days of obtaining a list of fellow alumni who worked on Capitol Hill from her university’s alumni office and then calling them, one of her fellow alumni hired her.

*Volunteer for nonprofits. By helping to manage advocacy groups, political groups, neighborhood organizations, condo boards and other nonprofits, you will likely generate key contacts and earn leadership experience that may help you land a better job. Remember: Volunteer experience counts on federal job applications.

*Befriend strangers. Some years ago, I struck up a conversation in my apartment building’s elevator with a stranger who, as it turned out, served as a consultant to the Plain Language Initiative — a governmentwide organization devoted to improvement of government communications. Once I discovered our mutual interest in federal communications, our long ride allowed me to deliver my “elevator speech” — a 20-second sales pitch I had prepared as part of my job search. The result: My new friend arranged for me to work a detail assignment with the initiative — a job that opened many doors for me.

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is IGotTheJob.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.


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