This week I'm talking about how to land your next job (or your first one) by being intentional about networking. I think it's helpful and all of these things have served me well in the last decade. If you're a video person, you can check it out on my YouTube channel, or if you're a reader, the transcript is below!
I graduated shortly after our economic crash a few years ago. Things were starting to recover, but not really, and because of that people were afraid to hire and they weren't really excited about hiring a kid who had just graduated from college. A kid who had minimal experience and unfortunately when the job market is like that, employers have a buffet at their disposal. They're not lacking for great applicants, and I didn't realize that. I had a chip on my shoulder that said, "Hey, it doesn't matter who hires me. If you give me an opportunity, I'm gonna work my butt off and make sure that I prove my worth."
The most frustrating part of this entire experience was coming out of college, applying for entry level roles, left and right, like a mad man, and reading on almost every application, "This is an entry level role. Please apply if you have two to four years of experience." What? Entry level, but with two to four years of experience?
Okay. Got it.
Makes total sense.
No one wanted to take a risk on me. No one had to take a risk on me. I went on interviews all the time. From the time I graduated until the time I got my first job offer was probably four and a half, maybe five full months after I graduated. I was going on interviews every week. I would get second interviews, third-round interviews, and then I would hear nothing from those people, and it happened repeatedly. I can think of at least three companies where I had three interviews, got great feedback from the people in the interview, and then I'd never hear from them again. I even went as far as to go down to their offices, talk to the secretary or whoever and then hopefully ask for a reason or an update on anything that was going on as far as these hiring processes, and I never got a straight answer.
I went on shadowing experiences where I would go and follow somebody for a day that was in a job that I thought was interesting or use that as an opportunity to try to get my foot in the door. That didn't help. Nothing seemed to work, and that's when I got into freelancing, which if you haven't seen one of my last posts or the other video I made about how to make extra money every month, the first thing I talk about is becoming a freelance brand ambassador, and that's what I did in this scenario. I just got fed up with waiting and relying on other people, so I started doing work on my own and figured, "I'll do this and the thing that I'm going to work the hardest at and double-down on is networking because that's what's going to open a door for me. That, and working my tail off. It's not continuing to go on these interviews and shadowing people because that has proved entirely fruitless, so what I'm gonna do is double-down on networking," and I'm here to tell you that is what made the difference.
The rest of this post, I'm going to talk about ways that you can improve your networking, whether that's at events or at a job interview or at a job fair or when you're freelancing, whatever it is. I think there are a few things that all of us can do a little bit better, including myself. I'm preaching to myself with the three things that I'm going to share, but they made a tremendous difference in me finding my first job, finding my second job, finding my third job, and finding a number of freelance clients. These things have helped me up my game as far as meeting new people and opening doors to opportunities that I never would have had otherwise.
This is going to seem super cheesy, but I really hope you stick with me. The first thing is have a firm handshake. When you shake somebody's hand for the first time, squeeze nice and hard. Don't hurt them. You're not trying to crush their hand. Don't do limp fish, which I do as a joke to some people that aren't expecting it sometimes, but give a nice, firm handshake and repeat the name back to the person that you're meeting. If you're meeting John, shake John's hand firmly and say, "Hi, John. Nice to meet you."
When you're doing this, you need to do one other thing that's nonverbal. You need to notice something unique about this person, whether it's the jacket they're wearing, shirt they're wearing, a distinguishing facial feature, their hair color, if they have weird-shaped earlobes, whatever it is. Say, "Hi, John," and, in your head, say, "John has the fattest earlobes I've ever seen in my life." I guarantee you, if you say something to that effect in your head, you will never forget John's name again. You won't forget it because you're like, "Who's the guy with the fat earlobes? John. John has fat earlobes." I know that's a weird example, but just stick with me.
Have a genuine interest in the other person. Ask them questions. Try to talk about yourself as little as possible. Get to know them. Get to know what they need, where they need value provided in their lives because that's how you find opportunities to freelance or to help people or to make introductions because, even when you make an introduction to somebody else, if it creates a beneficial relationship there, they're not going to forget that you made that introduction. If they ask you questions, it's okay to talk about yourself. Don't go on forever and ever, but say something that's unique enough that they'll remember and, if you talk about yourself just enough or pitch yourself without being awkward about it, there is a chance that they'll remember you for something down the line.
Make direct eye contact. The older I get, I feel like the rarer this becomes. I feel like less and less people are good at making direct eye contact, and it is so important. It lets people know you're engaged, and that leads me to the second half of this, that you need to listen better. I am a terrible listener. If my wife sees this and knows that I'm telling other people that they need to listen better, she would walk in here right now and slap me. Mercifully, she's not here, so she can't do that right now, but I know that it's a weakness of mine and I know that it's something I have to work on every single day because I'm not naturally gifted at listening. I have to work incredibly hard.
Here's what I've learned about listening.
Thinking about how you're going to respond while someone is still talking to you is not listening.
Don't think about how you're going to respond. Think about exactly what they're saying and how to process that in your brain. If they're talking about donkeys and how donkeys are created and how they're sterile, then you need to know every single nuance of what that person just told you about the donkey reproductive system or how they're reproduced. You need to know everything about it.
Here's the kicker. It's okay for there to be silence after they finish talking. That let's them know that you're listening and that you're processing what they just said to you. I'm not saying that you need to listen to them talk and then just sit there. No. What needs to happen is that you listen to what they're saying, you take a split second to process it all, and then you begin talking. It doesn't mean you have to spit out a thesis about the donkey reproductive system or whatever else. It just means that you need to take that split second, process, and then begin talking to show you understood and you heard them. You can talk slowly. Use intonation and inflection in your voice to let them know that you were listening, use highs and lows. If they were excited about this, then get excited about it with them. Get excited about the fact that donkeys cannot reproduce because of this gene that was described to you in detail, that I know nothing about because I wasn't listening because I wasn't there.
All you want to do is listen, let a brief pause happen, and then start responding slowly with clarity and match their level of excitement.
One of the more important things that I continue to work on, although listening is still my number one worst thing I do. You should mirror the other person's actions and body language. I'm not saying you need to mimic them or repeat back to them everything that they're doing with their bodies, because you don't want to copy what they're doing. What you want to do is you want to compliment their body language and their tone that they've set, but you don't want to react to them. You want to gauge immediately where they are. Is their excitement low? Is their excitement high? Do I need to match them? Do I need to one-up them a little bit and bring the conversation up? Do I need to elevate where we are in the middle of this conversation, or do I need to be a step lower so that this doesn't turn into a jumping and screaming match, like we're two little girls excited about selling 1,000 boxes of cookies.
Try to be a step ahead of them with your body language so that you are leading the conversation and you're not being led. You want to lead the conversation so that you can take it wherever you want. Instead of being reactive to how they are, be proactive. If they're low, then be high. If they're high, then come down a little bit of a notch and take a strong paced, clear control of the conversation.
Let's get something straight. You're never going to be perfect at this. No one is, but through conscious practice, you can get better and better and better at this every single time you interact with someone.
Not many people are practicing this specific skill. They're just not. It's not on their radar. They don't even think about it. By you consciously practicing it, it means you're going to lead 90-95 to maybe even more percent of the conversations that you're in when it comes to networking, and if you're leading those conversations, it's going to lead to doors opening for you. Self-awareness in these situations is what will help you win, and if you win these conversations, you're going to win down the road, you're going to win when the opportunities arrive because you're going to have your pick of what opportunities you want to embrace.
That's just a few of the ways that you can be better at networking. I wish somebody had told me these when I was young because I had to figure everything out for myself when I graduated college and didn't have a job and wanted to propose. Then I made a crap ton of money freelancing so I did propose, even though I still didn't have a full-time job.
We'll go back to my story a little bit as we wrap things up.
I graduated and started doing all these freelance gigs, and then, one day, a friend of mine introduced me to a guy who did some video work and he actually just needed help cleaning his house. He had eight kids, a huge piece of property, landlord was coming into town or something like that, and so he said, "Hey, can you guys come help me clean up my house, clean up my yard? I'll pay you for it." Me and my friend though, "Great. We don't have full-time jobs. We need cash. Let's do this." We went and spent a day just cleaning this guy's house, helping him tidy up around the property, and then, in the middle of the day, he said, "Hey, let's take a break. Let's go to lunch." I got free Zaxby's and I got paid. Can't complain about that! So we're at Zaxby's, and just talking, getting to know each other more, and he gets to asking us about what we studied in school, what we're doing now, and what we want to be doing. Of course, I talked about my experience thus far. I thought I was going to go into video production and mentioned that.
A couple weeks later, I get an email from this guy, and he said, "Hey, I have some friends who run a nonprofit here all about mentoring guys, and I think they need a video edited for their website. Would you be interested in helping them out? I think it might be a good fit for you." I said, "Great." I do this freelance video project. I knock it out of the park and then they said, "Hey, by the way, we're looking to hire a recent college grad to do some media-related type work for us. It'd be a full-time role. No benefits, but it'd be full-time employment, salary, paycheck consistently. Would you be interested?" I said, "Uh, yeah, sure. Why not?" They seemed like great guys, so I applied, and then, crickets. I didn't hear anything.
At this point, a month and a half went by, and I said, "Okay, obviously, they're not interested." I kept doing freelance work and I kept applying for jobs. At this point, I started looking for jobs in other states. Then two months after that initial conversation, I get an email, "Hey, let's meet for breakfast next week," and two days after that breakfast I had a job offer in my email inbox. Out of nowhere, finally. The first one.
Then the next day, I got two more job offers. The snowball suddenly became the avalanche, and it went from, "I just need a job," to "I get to pick what job I want."
All of my hard work, my relentless networking, my work ethic paid off. I went from having people deciding that they didn't want me to being able to pick from three different jobs in multiple cities in different states. I worked my butt off and networked like a mad man. I have friends who didn't do anything, and it took them a year plus to find a job in that same economy because they didn't do anything. They just sat around and waited for stuff to come to them. I had the opportunity to go out and grab life by the you-know-whats and I did it. That turned into me having three separate job offers at the same time.
I say all this to communicate that if you work hard, opportunities will come. If you are relentless in making yourself better, using these networking tips: Shaking with a firm hand, repeating their name, noticing something unique, making direct eye contact, controlling the body language of the conversation, and leading the conversation. If you do all of those things, opportunities are going to come to you. You're not going to have to keep going out to find them, they will come to you. Although you should never stop fighting. When you stop fighting, the water gets calm again. If you keep churning, stuff will happen for you.
What else did I miss? What other networking tips or tricks have you ever heard that have benefited you in a great way, like the ones that I mentioned before? I'd love to hear from you in the comments. Thanks for reading. I am super grateful, and you're amazing!