I'm always surprised at how many of my executive career coaching clients are hesitant to contact former colleagues and supervisors when they need advice or information. I call these their “networking hurdles.” It seems particularly true when they’re looking for a job. Why is that? I gave it some thought and here’s what I came up with.

Networkers haven’t examined their behavior. People who are more than willing to have a conversation with a long-lost neighbor, someone’s recently graduated nephew, or chronically unemployed brother-in-law, have a hard time imagining anyone would speak to them. When I ask “would you resent a former co-worker calling for your opinion about a company, person, or job?” they unanimously say “no,” “never,” or “of course not.” It begs the question, “Why would others feel differently about you?” They rarely have an answer. That brings me to my next point.

People think they’re psychic, or at best, mind readers. They suddenly are sure how others will react, though they have little or no evidence. “I’m positive they won’t remember me (take my call, give me good advice, etc., etc.).” “How can you be so sure?” I ask. Pre-determining outcomes is the great networking killer.

Networkers are not certain what to say. I can identify with this point. I’m not great at small talk, never was. In fact, I’m envious of people who can strike up a conversation anywhere at any time. I married one of the planet’s great ice breaker conversationalists. To this day, I still marvel at Arthur’s ability to speak with anyone, I mean anyone, without embarrassment or hesitancy. When I asked him how he does it, his simple and perfect, answer was, “I’m curious” and “people like to talk about themselves.” From this, I came to point number 4.

People like to talk about their successes. Whether it’s work achievements, their family, or sports triumphs, most people relish the opportunity to brag a bit. Let them, no, encourage them.

Career networking is more about listening than talking. I’ve never had clients say they were worried they could not listen, most are too consumed with “what am I going to say.” I’ve been to gatherings where everyone seems to be talking simultaneously. I love trying to follow a few conversations at a time – it takes a high level of concentration and can be an antidote to boredom. Occasionally someone will say, “Jane, how come you’re not talking?” “I volunteered to listen,” I often reply. Listening to someone is a form of flattery.

It’s about courage. Getting out in a big way requires a little faith and a willingness to take some risks. Using what sports psychologists call visioning—imagining making it down the slope in record time, flawlessly passing the baton, or skating without a fall—is the same as telling yourself the recipient will take your call or answer your email, will be happy to hear from you, extend an offer of help, or provide a new connection. Imagine doing it well.

It’s not about you and it’s all about them. By taking the emphasis off you and your performance, you reduce the pressure and have set yourself up for success. When your focus is on another, it is harder to become self-conscious, boastful, or say something you’d regret.

The numbers tell us that most executives will find their next job, career, or contact through a casual connection. Keeping them current and vibrant takes commitment.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.