Orville Pierson’s Blog

Are Networking Groups a Good Place to Network?

Maybe. I’ve been a program designer in job search assistance for 30 years, so I pay a lot of attention to meeting designs used by job hunters.

These things called networking groups actually have a number of different designs. It looks to me like the most common design is a Cocktail Party design, without the drinks. You put a bunch of unemployed people in a room. They’re supposed to mix, mingle and talk to each other about finding jobs.

For highly skilled networkers – sales professionals, for example – this design works very well. But for less skilled networkers, those who are not practiced at “working the room” the way politicians do, it’s tough. And for the 50% of us who are more inclined toward introversion than extraversion, this process can be downright painful.

A variation is the Bring-A-Job-Lead approach. Here, all attendees are expected to bring information on a current job opening, usually one “that is not posted,” to the meeting. Participants introduce themselves to the whole group and share the job leads. I like the organized introductions, because they are a very effective way of letting people know who they should meet. When the introductions include target list information, that’s even better.

But I don’t think the job lead part works. If I could find those magical unlisted jobs, I wouldn’t need the meeting. And the primary focus on job openings rather than organizations is minimally effective.

Another variation is organizing by industry groups: Banking to the left, chemicals to the right, healthcare in the back of the room, and like that. While this can get conversations – including target list conversations — started because of the common interests, it ignores the fact that it’s sometimes a good idea to change industries. And it’s still a cocktail party format.

If you decide to use networking groups, here are some suggestions for making them work better for you:

  1. Take your target list as well as your resume. You won’t necessarily hand them out wholesale, but you’ll make more progress talking about targets than about your resume.
  2. Look for common interests of any kind, professional or personal. The more of these you find, the easier it is to continue the conversation outside of the room. If the group is sponsored by your church or synagogue, that opens up a whole realm of common interests beyond jobs.
  3. Don’t try to get it all done at the event. See how many comfortable connections you can make. It’s not about getting dozens of names of people who are still total strangers. Better to make one or two stronger connections where there is a real interest on both sides in talking further and continuing to exchange information in search.

Finally, you might want to try a Job Search Work Teams. These teams serve as powerful core networks because participants get to know each other well, sometimes building professional relationships that continue long after job search ends. If team participation interests you and you can’t find one, you can start your own, using the instructions in the last chapter of my book, The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search.

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