Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Comfort of Connecting: Part 1

I consider myself a pretty good networker today, but that hasn't always been the case. Up until a few years back, I wasn't the type of person who could 'work a room'. I didn't always feel right approaching people I didn't know with a 'Cold' introduction. Simply put, at the time, I just wasn't comfortable with it. And I didn't have to in order to be a successful Corporate Recruiter. In the late 90s, I was doing mostly college recruiting, where engaging students, faculty and staff was easy. In the early part of this decade, I was with one of the last local telecom companies that was still expanding (at the same time most of the major telecoms were tanking). The toughest challenge was sorting through the hundreds of applicants to identify the best-of-the-best.

Essentially, I didn't have to reach out, the appropriate quantity and quality of candidates were coming to me! That changed however when I took my current job. When I joined my current employer, I learned quickly that the candidates we need are typically at a high level in skill, experience and credentials, and very short in supply. In order to be successful in this hiring environment, I had to step out of my comfort zone. Relying solely on job boards and resume databases wasn't going to cut it anymore. Technology has helped, LinkedIn for one is a fabulous tool for virtualizing one's immediate network, thus giving you access to a new, vast expanded network. But for the most part, it really just took a couple successes to build up my confidence and comfort-level in reaching out to my network and 'warm leads' when trying to identify candidates.

I'm starting a series here today related to the comfort issue when it comes to networking and connecting. Successful Referral Recruiting is predicated not only on the comfort and ability of the Recruiter to reach out and recruit via their network, but almost more importantly, on the comfort level of that Recruiter's immediate and extended network in providing the quality leads and referrals necessary to be successful.

In the meantime, I would like to invite my readers here to comment about how you initially 'stepped out of your skin' to become a more effective networker. I think we all can learn from each other's experiences, especially those who are still struggling with this issue.


At 2:52 PM, Blogger Pete said...

I couldn't do it. Going to one of these great big (or so it seemed to me) recruiting functions in the area - I think it was WTPF, or one of those. I mean, at the time I had 3 maybe 4 years under my belt and I'm shmoozing with people 17-20 years more experienced then me? Noooooo.

But I took myself back a few years to where I felt most comfortable in the past. (No worries, I'm not about to suggest picturing everyone naked) In college I was responsible for fraternity recruitment (foreshadowing??) and always felt comfortable working a room. Key to it was to bounce from group to group until I found one where I could contribute to the conversation. Once in there, I'd go off on other topics and pull other into the conversation - after a few minutes, you have a plethora of people in there.

What I always found as a key way to engage people I otherwise might shy from was to find a common ground and work it from there. Coming to DC via NY, I found my common ground for 97% of those chance meetings (and candidate encounters frankly) since it seems everyone here is from somehwere else. (Cary, NC is having a similar issue now - they've adopted the acronym for "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees" - maybe that's my next stop) Being able to break the ice with them on that and move freely in the conversation from there, I was able to network with these folks and dive deeper into why we should be connecting (way before linkedin) and how to help each other.

I guess the best tool is to find out what's going to create an instant connection for the two people and then from there, get into business.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Ben said...

Finding common ground when approaching a networking situation cold is critical.

Good personal example. A few years back, I was out at the EMA Conference in San Fran. The night of the big social event at the Palace of Fine Arts was a cool one, so I wore the jacket I brought on the trip, my black Univ. of Maryland pullover (I was still beaming from my Terps winning the basketball national championship that spring). I also saw this jacket as a potential converstation piece.

I'm walking through the hall that evening and someone approaches me and asks me about my Maryland jacket. That individual turned out to be Barbara Mitchell, one of the best-networked HR leaders in the DC area, who promptly introduced me to a number of her DC-area colleagues who were also in attendance. Finding that simple common ground that night has led to my planning/leadership involvement with EMA and WTPF in the few years since.

Find that common ground and you never know what might come next!


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