A client forwarded this New York Post article to me, asking the question in this post’s title. The title of the article – “Why people are now charging to network over coffee” – is both provocative and downright scary to potential job seekers. It is the New York Post, after all.
Thankfully, the article is not really talking about traditional job seekers. It’s really about people who want to work freelance or start their own businesses and want to talk to someone who already is doing that kind of work. It’s also about people who want to “pick someone’s brain” about their area of expertise. If someone makes their living doing creative freelance work or owns a small business, the savvy networker knows that time and expertise are money to them, and won’t impose.
I recommend that you ask for just 20 minutes of someone’s time. It’s substantial but not too much time. People who get a salary and aren’t paid hourly or by the project should be able to give you that time without begrudging it.
Respect the person you hope to network with. Say that you recognize that their time is valuable, and you hope they’ll be able to give you advice and guidance on your job search. Most people have been helped in job search and realize they may one day be in the position of needing your help. To make sure you use their limited time wisely, know exactly what you want to do (your Intention Statement) and tell them that ahead of time so they have a chance to think before your talk. Go to their place of business.
Realize that sometimes people can’t help, don’t want to say “no,” and instead don’t respond to your email or phone call. Don’t take that to heart as a reflection on your worth – it probably means they are too busy, overwhelmed, or unable to help for whatever reason.
And please, don’t say “pick your brain.” It’s an ugly visual, for one thing, and for another it feels a bit invasive to me. They are at the mercy of the “brain-picker” instead of being in the position of being generous and giving.
Networking is the way people get jobs, so don’t let this article scare you off. Just do it in a smart, respectful way, and most people will be happy to help you if they can.