The fabric of our lives key to networking

This is a guest post by Meg Schmitz.

How important is networking in today’s economic climate? Extremely.
What is your purpose?
• Get back to work
• Further your career
• Create new opportunities
• Learn something

Professionals in the Chicago-area should leverage their every contact, every connection to further their careers, whether employed or not. In this economy, I find that everyone wants to help; additionally professionals are aware there may be a target on their own backs. To not network is to miss out on the pulse, to miss the flow of opportunity and change.

If done properly, networking can be a great way for the unemployed to get back to work, and for corporate middle managers to climb the ranks within their organizations or at a new one.

Remember “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?” People you are connected to want to help, and you can put yourself in position to get their help through networking. The subtext of our lives is what draws people in. Hobbies, diversions, kids can be great ways to get to know someone … and he or she may very well know someone hiring!

I see this happen each week within my three networking groups: we know each other well enough that the job is set aside, and stories of our weekends are told. The fabric of our lives starts to emerge. This one broke his ankle in a basketball league for men, that one helps doggies at a ranch in Utah, another delivers meals to needy families and the ill.

Suddenly people lean in and ask “how can I help?” Next thing we know, a new relationship has created a job interview with someone else who helps in the same way. Hello Kevin Bacon!

Networking for your personal business is the best way to stay up-to-date on industry trends.

What is happening locally, nationally or globally? Who is hiring again, and do you have a better offering than that young kid who didn’t “make it work?” Some companies are waking up to reality: that experienced worker with a deep knowledge base really is a better employee than the cheap kid coming out of college (I have a child that is a young professional … don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble but I see this happening with my outplacement offices).
Nothing is going to alter the fact that the workplace is forever changed. A single resume can’t possibly tell the story of your entire life. Recent trends in resume writing such as identifying “hard skills” versus “soft” ones, are already passe. So, if you can’t put those on your resume, you need to find a better way to break through.

You must know people with whom you can be real, and realistic. I don’t mean the chatty coffee group that complains about how tough it is out there. Make it meaningful, purposeful, and go out there with the intent to lend a hand.
Plan to meet with anyone to whom you can explain the texture of your experience, the nuances that made you great. Plan to listen in return. Your trusted network of personal and professional contacts is who will know (or care) that you really can do the job, and help you get connected to the right people.
Fill your quiver with stories that hit home, that make the listener raise an eyebrow and say “I didn’t know you could do that…?!” It’s called differentiation based on experience. You can’t convey that in a cover letter, or resume. You have to get with the person who makes the decision. You need to get on the inside, with someone who can repeat your story and make you real. Necessary. Vital.
Think outside the box! Be open minded. Try something new. Forge a new path. Network.

Meg Schmitz is an independent consultant of FranChoice based in Morton Grove. Her free services aid individuals along their path to professional independence, while developing a plan to achieve personal lifestyle goals through franchise investments.