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Talk Your Way to an Awesome Life Change

Take the whole-life approach to networking. You’ll be surprised who knows whom, and how it can help


by Kara Baskin

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At Boston’s TurningPoint, career coach Kathy Robinson helps workers change jobs and jumpstart their careers. Her most common question from clients: How do I network without looking needy? “One of the benefits of the shift we’ve made as a culture is that networking is more casual now. The opportunities are endless,” says Robinson, especially thanks to social media. 

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Here are 5 ways networking worked for her clients.

Always be prepared to talk about your needs. “One of my clients [in her 50s] was taking a neighbor [in her 80s] to the doctor in a cab. On the ride, the elderly neighbor asked the younger woman what she did for work. When the woman briefly summarized her career in healthcare management and said she was looking to change jobs, the elderly neighbor said, ‘My son runs a department that does the same thing. I think he’s hiring people; do you want to speak with him?’ You never know when opportunity will knock.”

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Initiate casual conversations about work. “A technology director stopped by a yard sale on his block, and after chatting for a bit about a train set he was eyeing for a nephew, he asked the owner of the house what he did for work. It turned out that they knew many of the same people from a prior company. That triggered talk about a friend in common who was building a new company and looking for employees.”

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Time apart doesn’t matter. “If you join LinkedIn, you can look up former coworkers by name to see if they’re members and ‘invite’ them to be connected to you. If they accept, which most do, the next step is usually to write them a brief note to catch up. If you’re looking for work, you can mention it very casually in that note. One client, a software quality manager, found a former co-worker whom he hadn’t spoken to in eight years and mentioned his job search in one sentence of a two-paragraph email. Two months later, that person forwarded the lead that became my client’s new job!”

Hobbies help. “A 56-year old scientist and avid bike rider was laid off from a pharmaceutical company. During his job search, he joined a group of bike riders to get exercise and escape from the stress of his search. One day, a new person joined—a research director recently transferred to the area who was looking for new hires. The scientist was able to network in a ‘fun’ setting.”

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Forget the formality. “Mature workers have to learn the new tone shift from formal communications—Dear Mr. Smith, I respectfully request your time for an informational interview—to casual communications—Hi Joe! I wonder if you’d be open to a chat or a cup of coffee? We were trained to be proper, but these days, especially with the friendly tone of social media, formality can harm networking more than it helps.”

Photo Credits:

Woman: Thomas Barwick/Iconica/Getty Images

Dinner Party: Thomas Barwick/Iconica/Getty Images