How do you react when you hear the word “networking”? Do you feel uncomfortable? Roll your eyes? Break out in a sweat?
You’re not alone if the prospect of networking doesn’t make you jump for joy. Truth be told, most people don’t relish the idea.
And yet, networking remains a most effective way to land a job. According to Jobvite, 40 percent of hires come through referrals. That’s twice as many as the number of hires made through a company’s website.
Networking, then, seems like a no-brainer. So, what’s a person to do if they don’t like networking?
My suggestion is to ditch large networking groups in favor of what I call “buddy groups.” Buddy groups differ from traditional networking groups in a few important ways:
1. Smaller and More Intimate
Your average buddy group contains approximately six people — much smaller than the typical attendee list at a big networking event. Because buddy groups are smaller, people get to know each other better, making it easier for each member to keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities that might be a match for the other members. This level of intimacy is not always possible with large networking groups, where you may meet 20-80 people in one night.
2. Meetings Can Be Mobile
Unlike large networking events, which are often held at the same place every time, buddy groups can meet wherever and whenever they want. It all depends on the members’ preferences.
3. Ideal for Introverts
As an introvert, I’m more comfortable in smaller groups than in larger ones. The size of a buddy group makes it easier to develop deeper relationships with each member, which introverts tend to prefer over the casual, surface-level relationships that larger networking groups encourage.
4. Members Are Held Accountable
Buddy groups that gather on a regular basis are more likely to hold their members accountable for their job-search and career actions. If, for example, a member tells the others that they will schedule four coffee meetings the following week, that member will be questioned about those meetings by the others the next time the group meets.
5. Joining a Buddy Group Requires an Invitation
This means buddy groups can be formed around whatever organizing principle makes the most sense for the group. Some groups form to include members who share similar interests and occupations — e.g., a group of software engineers, project managers, and hardware engineers might gather to form a buddy group.
Other buddy groups aim for variety instead, assembling people from differing occupations. As one job seeker in a buddy group once told me, “If we all came from the same roles, we would all be applying to the same jobs. I think that would make the group more competitive when it should be supportive.”
Some Drawbacks of Buddy Groups
Although great in concept, buddy groups can have their drawbacks:
1. Buddy Groups Can Become Stagnant
While the consistency of meetings can be a buddy group’s strength, it can also be a weakness. There will undoubtedly be meetings that turn out to be less productive than the members would like.
I run a “job club” at an urban career center, and I will be the first to say that sometimes the meetings fall flat. Structure is important, but for structure to be successful, the activities must be of interest to the members of the group.
2. What Happens When Group Members Land Jobs?
Of course, landing a job is the goal for many group members, and there is reason to rejoice when it happens. However, if leaders of the group land jobs, the remaining job seekers might not pick up the slack required for the group to be successful.
Years ago, I initiated a networking group that ran independently of the career center. The leader of the group was outstanding. Fortunately, he landed a job. Unfortunately, the person who took over the group couldn’t maintain the same kind of leadership. The group eventually died.
When all is said and done, there are far more benefits to a buddy group than detriments. If big networking events never seem to work for you, then a buddy group may be exactly what you need.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.