As a senior finance executive with extensive operating experience in the United States, Europe, and Asia, I had always been comfortably ensconced in my job and never had to think about “networking” to look for a new career path.
That was until recently, after the real estate services company I was working for was acquired. The transaction actually happened two years ago and I stayed on board to lead the global implementation of ERP systems. Once that was completed there really wasn’t much of a reason for me to stay. As sometimes happens in these situations, I effectively worked myself out of my job.
I always hated the idea of networking with people during career transition because I believed it meant asking strangers to help me get a job. It was out of my comfort zone. I felt this worked best for people who were more comfortable than me at striking up conversations with people they didn’t know.
Until recently, I didn’t know how to even have this type of dialogue, and I thought surely the other person would have the same feelings.
The good news is that I was wrong.
The seeds of change were planted by one of my coaches at Shields Meneley Partners, who persuaded me to take small, but necessary steps toward trying out networking.
“For the next two weeks I want you to contact two people a week and then let’s see how you feel about networking,” she said. I committed to the networking trial, albeit incredulously. My coach and I talked about how to go about networking, which allayed some of my fears, but I was still feeling uncomfortable. We talked about letting people know about my career transition and that I valued their counsel.
I first reached out to a contact I used to work with at my previous company. It felt good when he said, “I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to hire you with the experiences you’ve had.”
At the end of our conversation I suggested we organize a dinner for several people who had left the company so we could update each other on what was happening with all of us. We invited five other people who had left, plus one person who was still there. They all came to the dinner, and when the one guy who was still employed at the company arrived, he announced he had just been fired that day!
Every dinner guest asked how he or she could help me with my search, while those who had found new jobs shared key learnings and experiences. One person was a big networker, and after he got a job he hired a former colleague. Another used a headhunter.
Each story provided a small nugget of information that was highly valuable to me in my search. Reconnecting with people I respected also put me into my comfort zone
The first step toward buying into the value of networking, much less developing that skill as an expertise, proved to be the hardest. From there, I became increasingly more comfortable and I was off to the races. In the months since hosting that dinner, I have met with a human resources contact, headhunters, other executives in career transition, and even my former boss.
If you are introverted like I am and in career transition, I recommend the following minimum steps to become a skilled and confident networker:
- Surrender to the fact that you need to be actively networking to get your next job. If you don’t, it’s pretty likely you will be in store for a long and painful journey. One coping mechanism that can help to allay networking fears is to ask people a lot of questions about themselves. You will not have to do a lot of the talking, and the other person will come away feeling you were really interested in them and engaged.
- Read the book “The 20-Minute Networking Meeting – Professional Edition: Learn to Network. Get a Job.”
- Download all of your contacts’ information and then segment that data into different groups of the people you know best and who will provide the best guidance on how to leverage your talents in your job search
- Once you have your list, pick out three to five people to contact weekly with the goal to set up 20-minute meetings to discuss your career transition journey
Follow through with your commitment — just do it! It won’t be as hard as you think, and it will get much easier once you have some experience under your belt. My job-transition journey has taken me to complete networking convert from absolute networking naysayer.
Throughout that journey I’ve continued to see a familiar pattern where candidates have bypassed screening processes and gone right to the interview stage, all because he or she knew someone and had a strong networking connection. There is clearly tremendous value in knowing the right people.
One final piece of advice for anyone who is naturally shy: push through your fear and make it happen. It may be difficult to see now, but the truth is that most people will be happy to hear from you and will want to help you.
Consider networking as one of the key components of your search. In the same way you would never look for a job without your resume, you will need to incorporate networking into the overall job-search equation. Simply put, networking is a must-have. And if I can do it, anyone can.
Jeff Patuto is a senior finance executive with 30-plus years of experience with global brand leaders such as Johnson & Johnson, Bausch & Lomb, and most recently Cushman & Wakefield. He has been a regional CFO for the U.S., EMEA, and Asia-Pacific as well as a global FP&A and finance operations leader.