A recent attendee of one of my monthly networking mixers, ProLango Career Mixer powered by NWjobs.com, sent me this question, which I hear frequently from people who have tried networking without satisfying results. See if you can relate:

“I attended my first ProLango Mixer last month at the Intiman Theatre. I talked with about 14 people and exchanged cards with 12. Looking them over at home, I realized that I will probably never contact most of those people — their fields are too far from my interests. … What is the reason for meeting so many people (dozens, or hundreds)? Why should I exchange cards and email with them, and what should I say to them? And why would someone in a field not remotely connected with any of my interests want to be in touch with me? I don’t really get it. I’m thinking there’s no point in attending another mixer — what IS the point?”

Random encounters with random people seldom result in a desired outcome. Think about this for a moment. You get in your car driving east on I-90, then take 405 north to 520 and cross the bridge to Seattle. You get on I-5 south until you hit 405 north again and pull over and say, “Boy! I’m not getting anywhere. What IS the point of driving?”

General networking without first having some clear goals is probably going to lead to disappointment. What I’d like to advocate is strategic networking.

Strategic networking begins with effective goal-setting. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, targeting a specific list of employers instead of chasing opportunities here and there leads to better, more desirable opportunities.

A simple goal you might write could look like this:

“It’s now July 2011, and I’m happily working at a company such as AT&T or F5 Networks as a project manager making $92,000 per year.”

Now that you have your list of companies, you would use tools like LinkedIn to find decision-makers within the target companies. If you don’t know these folks, you can either cold-call them — which is ineffective and tough in most cases — or get introduced.

The challenge for most professionals-in-transition is not having enough first-degree contacts to help them meet their desired employers. That’s where networking events come in.

Going to a ProLango Career Mixer, Eastside Networking Event, Linked:Seattle or other similar networking event allows you to meet and build relationships with people who can introduce you to your target contacts.

Here is a simple strategy. Look for former employees of AT&T, F5 Networks or whatever company you’re targeting — at the next event. Why former? First, they’re easier to reach and more approachable than current employees. Second, they probably still have contacts at their former companies.

Copy and paste names from the attendee list into LinkedIn and look at their resumes. If they’re a match, write their names down. If not, keep going until you find the right people. Make sure to have at least five to ten names so attending the event will be effective.

Stand near the entrance, bar or bathroom area to find these people, and use the research you’ve done in advance to make a positive first impression. Instead of selling yourself or elevator-pitching, find out what brought the people to the event and help them attain their objectives. Become interested in them first, help them and they’ll eventually become interested in you. Your interest and help must be genuine for this to work.

If you play your cards right, you’ll have built five to ten contacts who can help open doors to the specific opportunities you are targeting. With these introductions, you can now get your resume in the hands of the right decision-maker.

It’s not that networking doesn’t work. It’s all about having a clear goal and strategy.

Live Seminars in December

The Career Search Excellence seminar is packed with only the hottest tips and tricks for professionals seeking a new opportunity – giving you a competitive edge over the competition. The seminar is free (sponsored) and there are three dates to choose from in December.
  • December 5 (Bellevue, WA)
  • December 8 (Bellevue, WA)
  • December 10 (Bellevue, WA)
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