Try focusing your networking “backwards” onto people who already know you to reproduce the success stories here. Both job seekers experienced new optimism about themselves, which was reinforced by the people affected by their projects.
Introverts have undocumented advantages in the networking game. This story is about how those advantages, combined with natural “good citizen” attributes exhibited on-the-job, enabled a positive networking outcome that didn’t depend on stampeding the speaker at a meeting, meeting a business card collection quota, or forcing artificial brightness and energy for the sake of a roomful of strangers. If you’ve felt like a marionette having its strings pulled by advice to behave like the person you’re not, here’s a strategy to consider. It starts with bored annoyance, transforms the negative feeling to positive energy and an unpredicted outcome, driven by some volunteer networking.
- Find a problem that interests you and affects other people. (In my case, that was an investigation for why so many job seekers, unemployed or not, didn’t understand where jobs come from. Most of the job seekers focused on the problems and inconvenience of job hunting, not on the larger problem of which job seeking is only one part.)
- Find someone who’s interested in getting new information about that problem. (One contact found an audience that wished there were more historical fiction about the Civil War history of South Carolina.)
- Find the communication vehicle that you’re best at, and the one you’re second-best at. Do you counsel 1:1? Do you like speeches? Can you host a meeting or a party? Do you enjoy facilitating meetings? Do you twitter? Can you start an online discussion group? The difference between starting with an idea and then building up your social networking to support it is that your focus on a subject of interest to you will draw other people’s energy to you. If you start social networking without an idea of what could draw people to you, you’re in the position of trying to find people you need, rather than drawing people who need you.
Those three steps create an attraction engine that combines purpose, value, and community into a package that you can promote that will also promote you. It’s built on your strengths. It connects your professional skills and your personal interests. The first story led to the serendipitous connection to a hiring manager with a personal interest in the job seeker’s self-directed professional project; the second led to the writing of a book. In both cases, the projects created a small crowd of people interested in what the job seekers had to show.
Why self-directed projects work
The people you knew and treated graciously in the past are the ones you reach out to when you want to find both sources of information and audiences for your creation. This “reverse networking” doesn’t ask strangers to find value in you, but asks people who know your work to help you connect your value to others. Help you with your passion? That’s an easy decision to make. It gives a new lease on life in those historical relationships, connecting the successes of the past to building successes in the future. Who do they know who would like to know what you know?
The activity also gives you a solid answer to that question, “What have you been doing since your last job?” You’ve been finding problems and generating value, and your answer will have all the positive energy and passion of your self-driven project. There are a lot of questions that don’t have to be asked of someone with the focus, interest, commitment, discipline, and servant leadership required to create and run a useful project. It need not save Haiti, water the Mojave Desert, or cure cancer to be useful, notable, and interesting to interviewers who wonder what makes you tick. Try it.