How to Network Without Being Phony, Lame or Desperate

Let’s face it: Even when you’re on top of the world, chances are good that the idea of networking sounds like a big, fat drag. You can probably think of 100 other things you’d rather do — like cleaning the blades of your ceiling fan. But if you’re one of the 14.9 million who are competing for what seems to be a handful of jobs, your confidence has probably taken a hit. So now is probably not the time to be meeting anyone new. In fact, now is not the time to get out of your pajamas.

Ah. But it is. Networking is the single most valuable thing you can do with all this free time you’ve got now. It will help you build the relationships that will stay with you for the rest of your career. You will learn more about your profession, industry and community. It will protect you from becoming an out-of-touch doofus. And, best of all, it will put you in front of people who have leads on jobs that haven’t been published yet (the hidden job market). Through active networking, you could be the only candidate who is considered for that great job. Why? Because you got there first. Networking will do that for you. So while you change your clothes, change your mind about networking too! Here’s how:

Remember there’s nothing phony, lame or desperate about being out of a job.
With so many people who have been laid off, people are expecting to hear from you and help you. Call them.

Change your mind about what you’re networking for.
If you think that one meeting this afternoon is going to land you a job, you’re going to sound desperate. Each meeting is a chance to tell your story about what you do and who would benefit from your talent. So try to relax and take each meeting as it comes. Some that you have high expectations for will turn out to be duds. Some that you think will be long-shots will be gold mines. You’re networking not to land a job but to meet people, who will then introduce you to others, who will then introduce you to still others — one of whom will one day say, “When can you start?”

Remember that it’s not all about you.
You’re meeting because the two of you have something in common (similar job title, shared interest in the profession, industry or community, the person works in a company that interests you). Focus on that commonality and explore possibilities that spring from that commonality. Truly listen to what that person is saying, don’t just wait until their lips stop moving so you can start talking yourself.

Be yourself.
That is, be your best self. Don’t be the self that wants to stay home in your pajamas, hugging a pint of Ben and Jerry’s tight. Be the self who is at the top of your professional game, with a wealth of value to still deliver to the world, with a track record of successes that you still keep top of mind.

Tell your story without the usual job -search downers.
If your story tends to end with, “And then I got laid off,” you might want to rewrite your script. Focus on your accomplishments and the fact that people noticed your potential throughout your career. Be real about how it is you’re between jobs right now, just like “a lot of really great people these days” (use those words). And then immediately ask your networking partner a question about the company, industry trends, anything that shows you’re still a player in your field and ready to start contributing again.

Have a full calendar.
No networking meeting should ever be the last networking meeting you have scheduled. Always have something else (lots of something else’s) lined up. No one wants to be anyone’s last, best hope.

Have an agenda.
Many job seekers only have a vague notion of what to talk about in a networking meeting so networking becomes synonymous with small-talk. Small-talk does not impress anybody unless you’re looking for a hostess job. Spend two minutes talking about your background, 15-30 minutes talking about the jobs and employers on your target list, and the rest of the time talking current trends in the industry. Don’t forget, like any good business meeting, end it on time. Don’t dawdle. Don’t linger. Don’t ask for that second cup of coffee. Get out politely, but get out.

Thank your networking partner immediately afterward and confirm you’ll stay in touch.
It’s amazing how few people actually do this. Stand out! Send a note. Send an e-mail. Say thank you. And report back on how you followed up on all that great advice you just got. Keep that person informed of your progress. And you’ll continue to have a lively network of people who care about you and respect you for the rest of your career.

Pay it back.
You may be out of work. But you still have all your resources. Use them to help others in or out of the job search.

Duncan Mathison and Martha I. Finney are authors of the book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market (FT Press, 2009). For more information or to contact the authors directly, visit

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