Project Wonderful

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: How Do I Network?

Nancy I feel clueless about networking! I want to put myself out there but don't know how to start. I feel like I'm coming off as desperate. How should I begin to start networking?
Great question! As operatives, we're taught that it's not about "us," it's about the campaign. Accustomed as you may be to making "the ask," asking for help with your own career can be a whole different ball game. This is especially true of women. Women are notoriously great fundraisers for other people, but women candidates often have difficulty making the ask for themselves. Check out this post I wrote last year about women in the workplace. Networking, like any other skill, improves with practice and the better you get, the more comfortable you'll feel using it. Here are some tips to exercise your networking muscle:

1) Network Before You Need It. Networking is not about "using" people, it's about fully participating in your professional community. One of the great joys of my professional experience has been connecting people. A former organizer wants to go to Minnesota for the recount and I happen to know the Field Director. A classmate wants to work for the Sierra Club and I attended a training with someone who works there. Not only have I helped my colleagues find jobs or staff, but I know that there are competent people working for the causes in which I believe. By building a network before you need it, you enable yourself to help shape your professional community and people are more than happy to return the favor when the time comes. (And you'll feel better about asking).

2) Value Yourself and Your Experience. You have every right to reach out to your colleagues and people you've done good work for. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. If a friend of a broworker wanted to pick your brain for advice or you were in a position to forward your former intern's resume, wouldn't you be happy to help? Why shouldn't you expect the same professional courtesy? Campaign people tend to be especially giving in this capacity because we understand what it takes to be a committed and effective organizer and we want to promote those traits. Assuming you've done good work in the past there is no reason for them not to help you unless a) they are insanely busy b) they are a being a jerk or c)they don't feel you'll use their time wisely (see below).

3) Ask For Advice. People like when you ask their advice. It makes them feel admired and important. (Hello, advice column I am in the midst of writing.) Asking career advice is a great way to get useful information and establish a relationship at little cost to the advisor. Good questions to ask include, "Who should I be talking to?" and "If I want x job eventually what kind of experience do I need?" Asking these questions is a useful exercise in and of itself. You should only ask questions to which you genuinely want the answer. That said, one of the things I love about campaign people is that as a community we tend to be very forthcoming when it comes to promoting and connecting people, especially those who have proven themselves competent. You may find that your questions are rewarded with an offer to help. If not, once you've established a relationship you can follow up with "That's a great idea, do you know anyone there? Would you mind forwarding my resume?" etc.

4) Do your homework. I will let you in on a little secret, it drives me CRAZY when people email or message me asking questions that I have already answered on my blog. Likewise, when they ask me questions that could be answered by Google. Don't get me wrong, it is my absolute privilege to be a resource to this community, but as such I get a lot of requests for help or advice and I expect my time to be respected. The same way you you value your volunteers, because they are providing you a service for free, value the time and energy of your prospective sponsor or mentor. Don't ask questions you could have figured out your own. Don't go on an informational interview without having done a little research on your interviewee or their company and...

5) Follow up. Just like it takes time to give advice, it takes time to do a favor. If I offer to look over or forward your resume, don't take a week to send it to me. (I say, realizing I am guilty of this even as I type.) If I respond to your email by offering advice, follow up thanking me. If you don't, not only will I feel disrespected, I will doubt your professionalism and therefore be disinclined to link my name with yours. The way you treat someone after they do you a favor impacts the likelihood that they'll do you one again.

I hope this helps and thank you for the excuse to vent about my own pet peeves! Remember, you are worth it! Be respectful and I'm sure others will be more than happy to help!

Happy Hunting,

1 comment:

  1. I love everything about this column. Networking is super hard if you're not going into it with an idea of what you're supposed to do, and what you're really trying to accomplish.

    I'd add, as an extension of #5, that even if a person is not someone you want to network with now, if they reach out to you, say *something* back!

    I'm the first step of the candidate review process where I work, and I have a position open that, for many people, is like a dream entry level job. I've reached out to a few people that I think are total rockstars that I would recommend for the role, and I've been shocked by how many not only don't apply, but never say a word back! It's totally fine to say "Thanks, but that's just not something I'm interested in now." I know they saw the Facebook message... and now, when I have something they are interested in, they've lost rockstar points.

    You never know who will be doing what in 10 years... so isn't it better to just be awesome and professional to everyone? That's like 60% of networking right there.