Why Networking Isn’t a Dirty Word and How to Do It Well, with Bob Gerst

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If the thought of walking into a ballroom filled with hundreds of people makes you nervous, you’re not alone. But networking isn’t about the number of people you meet. Find Your Dream Job guest Bob Gerst reminds us that networking is a give and take relationship; not a Rolodex filled with names. Bob says quality networking doesn’t just happen, it takes effort. And the more you do it, the easier it gets, so practice is key. Bob also shares how setting networking goals and doing prep work can make the process more beneficial for both parties. 

About Our Guest:

Bob Gerst is a human resources executive and a career coach who helps job changers find jobs quicker.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 343:

Why Networking Isn’t a Dirty Word and How to Do It Well, with Bob Gerst

Airdate: April 13, 2022

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

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Do you hate networking? You’re not alone. 

Many job seekers both dislike and dread networking. 

But today’s guest says that you can network without feeling slimy and serve others as well. 

Bob Gerst is here to talk about why networking isn’t a dirty word and how to do it well.

He’s a human resources executive and a career coach who helps job changers find jobs quicker. 

Bob also hosts the wonderful podcast “People in Transition.”

He joins us from Yakima, Washington. 

Well, let’s jump right into it, Bob. Why do so many people consider networking a dirty word? 

Bob Gerst:

You know, I think that it’s because they view it as a transaction versus what it really is. 

My definition of networking is – it’s the art of building and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships, and there’s two real keywords in that, art and mutually. 

So, art, I mean, you know, there is not one size that fits all, and it takes practice to get it done correctly. And that mutually beneficial means that it is not one-sided, that both parties need to get something out of it, and if you miss either of those two, then it becomes much more transactional, and that’s what I think that people don’t like about it. 

Mac Prichard:

And why do so many job seekers miss that point and think of networking as transactional? What’s going on there, Bob? 

Bob Gerst:

You know, they think of it as going in, slapping backs, passing out business cards, and again, it being a race to see who can accumulate the most cards, and that makes it feel very, very slimy, I think was your word, and that is the farthest thing from what effective networking is. 

Mac Prichard:

And why isn’t that approach effective, to collect as many business cards as possible, chat with folks? Why doesn’t that make sense? 

Bob Gerst:

Again, because it is not the quantity in your network, it’s the quality of your network, and if all you’ve done is walked away with a business card, you’re gonna have a lot in your Rolodex, but the Rolodex is not going to enable you to do what it is that you want your network to do. 

Mac Prichard:

I think some listeners might be surprised to hear your point about quantity because one of the misconceptions I often encounter about networking is that you’ve gotta have a huge database, and sometimes job seekers will say to me, “Well, I don’t know anybody.” 

What do you say to that, Bob?

Bob Gerst:

Everyone knows people. It is really how they grow from there, and again, if you think of this as a relationship versus just that you added one more person to your contact list, that relationship is gonna take some time to develop and nurture, and so, just by virtue of the amount of time that it’s going to take, you can’t have thousands of people in your really effective network. 

Mac Prichard:

What about personality? Can introverts be effective networkers?

Bob Gerst:

You know, I read something once where sixty percent of adults consider themselves as shy. So, if you really go into it thinking that, you know, I must be odd somehow, or something of that nature, you’re wrong. 

Most people really don’t like to do that cold call, which is, again, the misconception of what networking is about. So, if you’re worried, in terms of just doing that cold call in the network, of course, you’re going to be concerned. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it’s gonna be uncomfortable for you.

I think that there are things that an introvert can do to help make it a lot more comfortable experience for themselves. 

Mac Prichard:

Can you give us examples of effective networking strategies for introverts? 

Bob Gerst:

When I coach people on this, I tell them to set their goals small. You know, don’t think, if you’re going to an event, that you’re gonna meet every person there. That’s an unrealistic expectation. Set your goals for it a little bit more manageable.

Sometimes, I coach introverts to attend events and get there early because there’s gonna be less people there and it’s gonna look and feel less intimidating for them. Sometimes, they’re going to want to kind of bring someone with them who is more of a connector than what they might be to help them in terms of making those introductions.

It’s like building a muscle. Networking doesn’t just come natural; it’s something even the most extroverted person can get better at, and they have to continue to build that muscle. And introverts are the same thing, doing things to help build that muscle. 

Mac Prichard:

What’s the best way for someone, whatever their personality style, to learn networking skills? Is this something you can teach yourself? Are there resources you might consider? What else do you advise your clients? 

Bob Gerst:

Well, you may want to, again, look at other ways to insert yourself into settings that you’re going to be more comfortable. Again, that’s true for whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. 

Things – you might want to go do volunteer work, and in your volunteer work, it helps you in terms of being alongside people that have a mutual goal or a mutual interest. You may want to look at using organizations like Meetup or LinkedIn Groups for groups that align with your industry, interests, or expertise.

You may want to make certain that you’ve got the tools that you may need to call upon as you’re talking with people. By that, I mean that you’ve thought through very simple things. If someone comes up to you and says, “Hello, Mac. How are you? What do you do?”

If you’re not comfortable in those kind of situations, having thought through a little short, two or three-line response to that individual is going to help you so that you don’t have to rely on just being an extemporaneous speaker.

Mac Prichard:

Are there places you send your clients where they can learn these skills? The examples you shared are good ones of places you might network like, Meetup.com events, and I love the example of having an answer ready when people approach you at a public event. 

But for someone who might feel reluctant about networking or uncomfortable with it, how do they learn how to do this, Bob? What are good ways to learn those skills?   

Bob Gerst:

I suggest to my clients, start with the people you know, family, friends, people that you’ve worked with in the past, people that you’ve had conversations with in the past. You can work on those skills with those individuals and start developing a comfort level to help you as you expand beyond that. 

Again, if you believe in my analogy that networking skills is a muscle, you don’t start out lifting the two hundred pound weight. You start out lifting the twenty-pound weight, and then as you get more and more comfortable, more and more strength behind that, you can start adding weight, adding layers onto that network that you’re developing. 

So, don’t try to lift the two hundred pound weight at the beginning, or don’t go to that event that has three hundred people that you’re going to be overwhelmed by. 

Mac Prichard:

So, set achievable goals, take small but regular steps, and that networking muscle will continue to grow over time. 

Well, we’re gonna take a quick break, Bob, and when we come back, Bob Gerst will continue to share his advice on why networking isn’t a dirty word and how to do it well. Stay with us. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Bob Gerst.

He’s a human resources executive and a career coach who helps job changers find jobs quicker. 

Bob also hosts the wonderful podcast, “People in Transition.”

He joins us from Yakima, Washington. 

Well, Bob, before the break, in our first segment, we were talking about how to network, why people might feel uncomfortable with it, you shared some advice about how to do it, and we talked about personalities and how introverts can network successfully. 

I know another tip that you share with your clients is to put networking on your calendar. Why is that important, Bob, and why do you recommend people do that? 

Bob Gerst:

So, I had a CEO that was a client of mine, and she said, “You know, Bob, you’re fairly new in the community, and I’ve been here most of my life, and you have more connections in the community than I do. How do you do that?” 

And the reality is that you have to do it very intentionally. Effective networking is not something that just happens organically. You have to know what your goal is for your networking and then create the schedule to accomplish it. 

Most of the people that I coach are very type-A personalities that live and breathe by their calendar, and if they end up putting time on their calendar to network, they’ll get it done. 

Someone once asked me, when should I really start to network? And my response to that was, probably five years ago. Because if you do it, you know, when there’s an emergency, it might be a little bit too late. It’s a cumulative process that if you do a little bit each week, you’re gonna be able to reap great rewards later on. 

Mac Prichard:

Can you network effectively, Bob, without setting specific goals?  

Bob Gerst:

I think it’s really important to understand what your goal is because networking is not just to help you get a job. I use my network very effectively to help me with thought leadership about events and activities. I use it to help me get introduced to potential vendors or consultants. I use my network to help me in terms of learning. 

So, what are you trying to accomplish? What is your goal in the network? And there are people in my network that I have in each one of those kinds of buckets that I can call upon depending upon what the goal is, what the need is for. 


Mac Prichard:

Give us examples of common goals that your clients set when they’re networking after they work with you. 

Bob Gerst:

Well, some of the goals that they might set may be to help them in terms of introductions. You never go into a networking relationship – if you use my definition that I had earlier – that it has mutually beneficial, you can’t go into it based on, you know, the notions in terms of, what can I get out of this? It needs to be, how can I help in that relationship? 

So, you go into it with the goal of recognizing you’re going to have to give something in this process, and again, if you go into it understanding that, it’s gonna help you pick the kind of individuals that you want to network with. Because you’re gonna want to have people that you do feel a real genuine interest in trying to help out. 

So, when I coach people, I tell them that they should have as a goal for themselves people that fall into that category. That they’re going to have a comfort level in helping them with, it may be new articles to those individuals. It may be bits of information for those individuals. It may be just to supply, kind of, support to those individuals. All of those are legitimate kinds of goals and legitimate kinds of people that you might add to your network. 

Mac Prichard:

You talked a moment ago about being a giver and serving others. Why is it important, Bob, not just to ask for help but to offer help as well when you’re networking effectively? 

Bob Gerst:

If all you’re going to be is a taker, it’s much easier for that person to either not hear or ignore what it is that you need to have. If you’re a giver, it’s much more difficult psychologically or emotionally for that person to say no.

And so, you have, as I tell my clients, when you fill your goodwill bucket up for those people, when you have a need – that need may be to help you network with other people, it may be information, it may be contacts – whatever that is it’s going to be much more difficult for that individual to not supply you with that information because that goodwill bucket has been filled up. 

And that’s the reason why the quality of your network is more important than the quantity. Because you’re going to be able to fill those buckets up, you can’t fill thousands of buckets up. 

Mac Prichard:

Can you give us examples of ways that your clients give to others, services, or help they might offer? 

Bob Gerst:

Since I believe that you never stop networking, it’s like learning. It’s a lifelong process. You have to view this from a sustained activity. And so, my suggestion always is to pick some number in your network that, each week, you can provide something to them. It may be an article. It may be some information about their industry. It may be just some thoughts. 

I had one person that, for a while, was just, I mean, they were kind of in a dry streak, and so I said, you know, why don’t you try sending little motivational quotes to your network. Everyone needs a little bit of kindness and a little bit of motivation to help them through their day, and so whatever it is that can kind of keep you in front of them and to help you, again, fill that goodwill bucket up. 

Mac Prichard:

How much time do you recommend that people spend on networking, both in giving to others and working their network when they have a need to be fulfilled? 

Bob Gerst:

My belief on that is that your muscle at the beginning is different than what it is over a period of time. 

People who start out doing this, I suggest to them starting a little bit smaller. So, you might go thirty minutes a week that you’re doing this, as you get more comfortable with it, as you get in a rhythm of it. I set on my calendar the exact same time every week. I know that Tuesday afternoon is my networking time, and so, the rest of the week, I’ve started to accumulate articles, information, things that I might be able to use so that when I either email them or talk with them, I’ve got it at my fingertips and can share that with them. 

I, some weeks, do a couple of hours. I mean, we all have regular lives, regular jobs, but if you do this an hour or two a week, think about that, that’s one hundred hours a year. You are way ahead of everyone else in doing networking. 

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked a lot today about what networking is and how to do it well, and we haven’t talked, Bob, about the difference it can make in a job search, and this, of course, is a podcast about learning job search skills. Can you do a successful job search or have a rewarding career if you don’t network effectively? 

Bob Gerst:

So, I believe that there are a number of avenues to conduct a job search. You know, there’s certainly lots of job boards which Mac Prichard has one of the better ones. There are other certainly job boards that you can utilize. 

There is going directly to companies. I think that, through the networking process, statistics that I have seen would indicate that through that networking, whether it is posted jobs or the unlisted jobs that exist, I think that through that networking, you have a better opportunity, oftentimes, to connect with the right kind of great opportunity for yourself next. 

So, I think it is just one of the paths that you can take. But I suggest to my clients, make certain you don’t overlook it because it’s a significant path for you. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Bob. Now, tell us what’s next for you?

Bob Gerst:

Yes, I am loving my podcast. As you’ve already said, it’s called People in Transition, and we talk about networking, interviewing, and resumes, and many of the other things involved with the job transition process. 

I have a consulting practice called HR Transitions, and I continue to coach individuals one-on-one about whether it is a college senior’s first job, between jobs, jobs-to-entrepreneurs or franchises, jobs-to-retirement. So, it’s been a busy life.  

Mac Prichard:

I know listeners can learn more about you and your services by visiting your LinkedIn page, and I hope they’ll mention they heard you on this show when they reach out to you, and also by listening to your podcast, which you mentioned, People in Transition. 

Now, Bob, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about why networking isn’t a dirty word and how to do it well? 

Bob Gerst:

If you believe, as I do, that networking is based on a mutually beneficial relationship, it is you giving to others. I think whether that giving is a tangible product or you and what it is that you can offer to a person, that is as good a Samaritan, if you will, that you can ever be. So, that giving relationship makes it a wonderful activity. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Matt Warzel.  

He’s a certified resume writer and the president of MJW Careers. Matt’s company helps you find your next job faster and with a better salary. 

Many employers today use an applicant tracking system to receive and sort applications. 

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Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

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