What the heck is your network, anyway?

So, you wanna get a job? I bet that without a doubt, someone has suggested that you should “use your network”. Am I right? If you don’t know what your “network” is or even why it matters, keep reading.

Many see networking as an abstract and potentially wishy-washy activity. The idea that comes to mind when someone suggests networking is typically: signing up for an evening event in your local area, paying some kind of fee to go, going alone, putting a name tag on, and walking around shaking hands and handing out your business cards (or explaining to people why you don’t have a business card: “I’m an environmentalist!”).

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Okay, so our idea of networking is that its hard, confusing, and potentially a little sleazy. Many of us find it difficult to “sell ourselves” and our skills to strangers in a way that doesn’t feel awkward. So networking gets a bad rap. But I don’t think it should.

Why? Because you are networking all the time

Yes! You are. I’m serious. If you spoke to someone you know today, you were networking. You have more people in your life than you think, and those people are in your network. Networking can be so ingrained in your everyday life that you have been doing it for years and aren’t giving yourself credit for it. Acknowledging that you already have a strong network will help you in leaps and bounds on your job search – because you can start with those people.

Starting now, I would encourage you to view the act of networking, and your network, differently. In fact, I have three terms for you to use to describe the types of connections you have in your life.

Hot Connections: These are the people in your life who are the closest to you. They are your family, friends, your best colleagues, favourite teachers, etc. They are people who like you and think you have a lot to offer the world. They would go the extra distance for you and would vouch for you in a time of need. They are “in your corner.”

We all have many of these people in our lives. As an example, I have a friend named Yanique Williams. We met in 2011 through provincial politics and were fast friends. We travelled in Europe together and collaborated on some projects when we were living in Toronto. I think she is downright awesome and I would tell anyone who asks. We are ‘hot connections’ with one another (and I’m sorry this sounds like a Tinder match-up, I promise its not).

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Yanique in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Julia Hawthornthwaite.

The benefit of these people in your life is that they will willingly connect you with other people they know, if you ask them. This is really important for networking.

Warm Connections: A step down from a hot connection, you know these people, but not as well. They are teachers you’ve had but are not on a first name basis with, friends of friends, old colleagues you didn’t work directly with or were never good friends with, old roommates, people you know professionally but in small dosages, that kind of thing.

What’s important about these types of people is that they know who you are. Specifically, you can get in touch with them and reconnect with them. If you e-mailed them and asked how they are, they would probably respond, and you could ask them for a coffee to get back in touch. You might have remind them how you met or when you last saw each other if it has been a while, but if your interactions were positive, chances are it will be a warm welcome.

From my own life, I would use an old professor of mine from the University of Waterloo as an example. His name is Dan McCarthy, and a few months ago I reached out to him to ask for his advice on a potential project for my work. It has been about 3 years since we last spoke, so I would not have considered him a hot connection. He remembered me and we were able to have a Skype conversation to talk about the project because he is an expert in the area. Because of this conversation, our connection has been re-established (relevant if I were in a job searching phase.)

Cold Connections: Ah the dreaded cold connections! These are strangers in your life. But I call them connections because they can become connected to you from either a hot or a warm connection. They aren’t scary (usually), and they are just people. People you don’t know. During job searching phase 2 years ago, I reached out to a lot of “cold connections”.

I wrote a lot of e-mails to complete strangers. I looked up a lot of people on LinkedIn and asked my warm or hot connections for introductions to them. And I just wrote more e-mails. I reached out to a woman named Maya who worked at Evergreen Brickworks. I did it because Evergreen was a workplace I admired and I wanted to learn more about what her role was on the team. It turned out that she was new as well and a recent graduate. She sympathized with my career search and connected me with some people she knew. Just like that a cold connection became a warm connection. Even though we only met one time for coffee, I don’t doubt that we could meet up again.

So what the heck is your network, anyway? It’s your people. You already know them. When someone suggests that you use your network to get a new job, you don’t have to feel the panic associated with meeting cold connections. You don’t have to start from scratch. Your network is already around you today, just reach out and say hello. 

3 thoughts on “What the heck is your network, anyway?

  1. Very true advise. Got my new job through networking too. Had not been on the job market for a while and wow did it ever change in the past ten years! At first the reaching out and saying hello felt a bit strange to me, especially reaching out to the cold connections. Would be helpful for people to learn how you write to cold connections. Follow up post? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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