As a general rule, I do encourage people to accept interview and meeting invitations. Even if you are not interested in the job now, you may become interested as you learn more. You meet new people which could lead to other opportunities. You learn about what other companies are doing. Even when you’re happily employed, it’s useful to know your market and get a sense for your value.
That said, we all have limited time and energy. We physically can’t network 24/7, nor should we. There may be other things that are more important, even for jobseekers. Here are 3 examples of when you might want to decline a meeting:
The invitations you are getting are off-target. In the beginning of a job search or when you are new to networking, it is hard to know if an invitation fits your objectives or not. It is worth it to say yes to mostly anything because you need to get out there, practice interacting, and get a firsthand feel of your market. But after a few weeks, you should review who you’ve been meeting: are they in and around the industry/ functional areas that I am targeting? Are they in a position to hire me or refer me? At the very least, are these people that I want to develop relationships with? It shouldn’t be about who can help you (that’s too narrow a view for networking) BUT you do want to have genuine interest in people. If you are getting invitations that are far afield from your interests and you are dreading these meetings, it’s worth it to decline the meetings and spend the time you save figuring out why you are not attracting the right people.
You need to focus on follow up, rather than meeting more people. Most people don’t make enough time for meeting new people, but there are some out there who network so much it is like busy work for them. They flit out and about to every mixer and meeting and justify this haphazard activity as important networking. Networking is not just about meeting more and more people. It is also about deepening relationships with people you have met before. If you have made a lot of contacts already, your time may be better spent getting back to those contacts, rather than adding more. In an ideal schedule, you reserve time for both, so make sure you indeed do both expanding and maintaining your network.
There are more time-sensitive things to do now. I once presented a time management workshop at a company that was undergoing a major restructuring. People were juggling multiple roles, including brand new areas. The first point I made (and you could hear the sigh of relief) was that everything else should be tabled for the next 90 days as this overhaul went through – I pointed out family balance may go out of whack, social outings may have to be curtailed, even sleep may take a hit. I could have said the same about networking. This was a crunch time for this group. They needed to push through, with almost tunnel-vision, and then they could reassess. Obviously, if the restructuring is open-ended, this is not a long-term solution. But there will be times when there is a time-sensitive crunch of activity that needs to come first, and even important things like networking need to be set aside.
Most people don’t do enough networking, so I hesitated writing an article that seems to get people off the hook in this sometimes uncomfortable endeavor. But not all networking is good networking. You may be just spinning your wheels. You may be using networking as busy work to avoid other more important activities. You may be overloading yourself unnecessarily. Networking is necessary. Any one meeting is not. Make proactive choices.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart® (www.sixfigurestart.com), a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters. Caroline is a co-author (along with Donald Trump, Jack Canfield and other leading business authors) of "How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times" from Two Harbors Press, 2010. Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline has recruited for leading companies in media, financial services, consulting, technology and healthcare.
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