career advice… Real People Think This is OK When Job Hunting, but It’s Not by Janet Krenn

I’ve been completely astounded by the way that people act in networking and job-hunting situations; and I start to wonder, how could any rational person think that this is OK?

The only way I can explain it? These crazy interactions must be the unhappy result of someone misapplying generic advice. Here are real stories of bad networking behavior that I have witnessed along with the four bits of generic networking and job hunting advice that I want to bring to your attention. By all means, apply these pieces of advice, but please do so with a healthy amount of restraint!

Generic Advice #1: Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
How much “risk” should you as a job hunter take? Risk can indicate that you are a leader or that you are confident. But if the risk turns out to be a disaster, you may come off as arrogant or reckless.

Bad Application: Taking a risk without considering whether the risk will give you the desired outcome.
Once I was at a trade show with our CEO. A newly minted graduate and now intern planted himself in our exhibit space. While the CEO was off talking with someone else, the recent grad indicated to me that he thought our company was interesting and inquired whether we were hiring. We weren’t right now, I told him, but if he’d like to drop off a resume, we’d hold onto it. He walked away, but when he came back, he didn’t have a resume–He had redesigned the company logo and started pitching his unsolicited redesign to the CEO.

Generic Advice #2: Don’t be afraid of networking! Get your name out there. Show your face.
When I lament to my boyfriend that my bike needs some work, but I didn’t know where to take it. He says in reply, “Oh, if only there was some international network of information that you could use to find this out!”  There is no excuse for walking into any prospective partner, employer, or client’s office as if you were conducting a “cold call”.

Bad Application: Contacting an individual about whom you know nothing.
The other day, a job hunter walks into my office and asks, “Do you know who the expert is in XYZ?” and then “What can you tell me about him?” This gent wanted to establish a partnership with someone at my company, and assumed that just because I had a desk on campus that I was going to have answers for him. When I told him I didn’t know who he should talk to, he asked that I look into it and email him. Which brings me to #3…

Generic Advice #3: Ask for help.
Finding a job is work. You can probably look to your close friends and colleagues to help you drum up business or interviews. Be careful whom you ask for help.

Bad Application: Asking others to carry you.
When you ask for assistance from someone who doesn’t know you better, you run the risk of looking unambitious or lazy, and once you’ve made that impression, you have a slim chance that that connected individual will want to recommend you for an interview.

Generic Advice #4: Contact the hiring manager before you submit your resume. Ask questions during your interview.
The questions you ask a hiring manager could make you appear thoughtful and intelligent. The caveat is: In order to appear thoughtful and intelligent, your questions need to be thoughtful and intelligent. Walking into a networking situation or a job interview, you should already know why you want to be there.

Bad Application: Asking a company to tell you how you could benefit from this position.
Don’t contact a hiring manager and ask her to justify why you should want the job. This seems obvious, right? I’m only bringing it up, because I’ve seen it happen more than once. If you don’t know why you should want the job, don’t waste anyone’s time. Don’t apply, and don’t bother the hiring manager. You never know when that hiring manager will be posting a job you are interested in, and you don’t want to have that first negative interaction hanging over your head.

JANET KRENN has never been a hiring manager, and even so, she’s seen some job hunters doing some wacky things. She is also the 2010 Chair of the New Professionals of PRSA. You can contact her at janetqs(a) or @janetkrenn.