Virtually every job search program I’ve been associated with either as a client or instructor has included a unit or section on networking. This isn’t surprising because we know from previous posts that networking contacts are the source for 70% of jobs.
We also know that networking can be frustrating. It seems easy when we do roleplaying exercises in job search classes and webinars. The person we ask for a meeting always says “yes” in the roleplay. Of course, in the real world we have to make a lot of calls, leave lots of emails, and a lot of LinkedIn messages to get a few meetings. Another post will address “getting to yes.”
Another question that arises is “what qualifies as networking?” Is telephone networking acceptable, or must “real” networking always be done in-person?
New kinds of electronic networking have emerged in recent years. Ultimately, though, networking for business is an activity that takes place between people not machines. That means the most important element to consider is the level of engagement between the people involved. So the categories of networking from lowest to highest level of interaction between people include:
- Telephone contact,
- Web-based communications, other than video,
- Video communications, and
- In-person meetings.
No doubt, there is detailed sociological literature on the benefits of each communications level. We’re going to look at it from a common-sense level based on experience in coaching and career advising.
We’ll start by considering telephone contact as the least engaging to participants and in-person contact as the most engaging and memorable for most people. In fact, in the 1980s and 1990s, we taught jobseekers that telephone contact was not really networking. The only real networking was in-person contact. As we know, the world has changed since then.
Generations of business people and professionals have found the most convenient way to stay in touch with each other is via telephone. Virtually everyone has a phone. Even better, before the smart-phone era, engineers designed the telephone network to work with seven-digit local phone numbers that people could easily remember.
Telephones are even more convenient today. Nearly everyone carries a phone with them, so you no longer have to reach someone through their assistant, co-worker, boss, spouse, etc. Voicemail is probably more reliable than people for taking message and accurately relaying them. Additionally, there is no need to remember phone numbers anymore—the phone does that.
Telephone contact is, when we think about it, not very engaging or memorable. It’s one-dimensional—audio only—and the audio is not always very good. Ordinary “landline” telephones respond to a narrow range of audio frequencies, and cellphone audio can sound even worse. As a result, you may miss many nuances of human communications—tone of voice, inflection, pauses, and other cues.
Arguably, contact with your professional business network via the World Wide Web is even less engaging than contact over the telephone. The “traditional” Internet is largely text-based so, like telephone communications, it is also one-dimensional, and may lose some subtleties of human communications.
Fortunately, there are some benefits to exchanging messages with contacts via email and Web sites such as LinkedIn. Among the benefits are that there is a record of all communications, and that we can communicate with many people simultaneously or nearly simultaneously. For example, we can ask questions in LinkedIn groups, and send emails to many people at once. We can attach articles and videos—something we could not do with traditional phone calls. Think about the number of times you’ve called someone about an important article, and then both of you forgot about it. So, it’s fair to say that networking via the Web and email can be more engaging than ordinary telephone contact.
Zoom and other forms of interactive video communications have come to the fore during the pandemic. Most of us have found video more engaging that phone, Web, and email communications because we can see everyone involved, and the audio quality is generally better.
Videoconferencing has some advantages although it lacks the connection created by, say, having lunch with someone. For example, I’ve had a Zoom meeting with a woman in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia to discuss a product she wants to offer American coaches. It would have been prohibitively expensive to meet in-person, and my phone plan does not cover overseas calls.
Rebecca Metz at Web Pages that Sell, a Web site design firm in Bloomington, Minnesota, pointed out to me during a recent Zoom call that videoconferencing, like email messaging, your LinkedIn profile, and your Web site are all forms of “digital” communications. Video creates a “higher level” of connection than other digital media, although it is not as good as in-person communications.
Videoconferencing, then, is an invaluable networking tool. It allows meaningful nationwide and worldwide conversations with business and professional contacts at minimal cost. As a result, it can supplement local, in-person networking efforts.
The “gold standard” for maintaining contact with professional and business colleagues continues to be having in-person meetings. Experts say in-person contact creates the strongest bonds, and this is borne out by most of our personal experiences.
Think about your own network of contacts. Chances are people you have lunch with periodically, or those that you have worked with in the same office are the people that have brought opportunities to your attention most often. A coach that had a role in getting me hired into my first career industry job, later wanted a job. It was easy for me to refer him into the company I was working for because I had worked with him and knew his work. You have probably had similar experiences in your own career. It’s so natural, you may not even think of it as networking, but it is. This is the true power of personal contact.