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Posted: January 27, 2009

Top rules for online networking

Don't alienate the very people you need

Liz Ryan

A year ago, I wrote a story about online networking. In the article, I talked about how networking is different from selling. I got a few pieces of reader mail after that story ran, but the funniest one was a message from a lady who said, "I loved your story about online networking. You're so right. Networking and selling are totally different. I am a distributor for a wonderful health drink made with the rare winko-binko fruit from Polynesia. If you buy now, I can give you a month's supply free!"

I'm not sure that lady got the message.

Since then, a lot of people have become interested in online networking, and it's easy to see why. In a down economy, job-search contacts are in hot demand. Online networking is a great way to move the ball forward in your job-search efforts.

Here are a few tips to keep you from alienating the very people whose help you need.

Rule #1: No resumes to strangers
Don't send your resume to people who haven't asked for it. The e-mail message that says, "Hi, I found your LinkedIn profile and wanted to send you my resume in case you hear of any marketing/IT/HR jobs" will be quickly deleted.

Just who is that perfect stranger going to send your resume to? How will he or she recommend you for a job when this person hasn't met you or spoken with you? This is the biggest rule in job-search-related online networking. Don't spam people you don't know with your resume.

Rule #2: Network with the person, not their Rolodex
When you're approaching people online in your job search project, reach out to them because of who they are and the interesting things they're doing, not who they know. The overture to a stranger that reads, "I see that you have a lot of LinkedIn connections; let's have coffee so that you can help me with my job search and make some introductions for me" is simply the business version of a panhandler grabbing you on the Sixteenth Street Mall and asking for money.

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If you want to reach out to someone via LinkedIn or via e-mail in your job-search networking, talk about that person - not about yourself - in the outreach message you send. It's insulting when we convey "I don't know a thing about you, but you seem to know people, so I want to meet you." That's why a great e-mail subject line to a person we haven't met is, "Loved your remarks at the entrepreneurism summit." A terrible one is, "Need help with my job search."

Rule #3: Use online discussion groups (like Yahoo)
Online discussion groups are wonderful for job-search networking. The folks who get the most benefit from them are people who use the group to learn about job-search techniques, prospective employers and resources, and to make connections.

I lead a group called Front Range Career Forum, and it's wonderful to see people posting observations and advice there. What doesn't work so well is a post that says, "I'm a programmer with seven years of experience in X, Y and Z. Contact me if you hear of anything." Who would do that? Who has time, and who would be motivated to jump into action for a person who sees the group as a bulletin board for his job search rather than as a community?

The biggest, corniest and truest cliché ever is "people help people." But if we don't know you, we're not inclined to spend any brain cells on your job search, not when we personally know so many (real, complex, funny, talented) people who are also job-seeking.

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Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR exec and an advisor to organizations and job-seekers. Reach her at liz@asklizryan.com or www.asklizryan.com.

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