Why You Need to Network and How to Do It Well, with Gene Rhee

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Does the word “networking” strike fear in your heart? Are you hesitant to reach out to others for coffee or conversation? That fear is natural, says Find Your Dream Job guest Gene Rhee. But it helps when you realize we all network every day. When you talk with a coworker or a friend, you’re networking. The key to successful networking, according to Gene, is to have something to offer in conversation, so be clear on your values, skills, and interests, so that when asked, you can share specifics. And be ready to ask questions of the other person so that they feel valued and open to share. 

About Our Guest:

Gene Rhee is the executive director of Mohr Career Services at the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 426:

Why You Need to Network and How to Do It Well, with Gene Rhee

Airdate: November 22, 2023

Mac Prichard:

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What comes to mind when you hear the word networking?

Is it something you want to avoid and a skill you don’t want to learn?

Gene Rhee is here to talk about why you need to network and how to do it well.

He’s the executive director of Mohr Career Services at the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon.

Gene’s office engages industry and alumni to promote career success and lifelong connections to the college.

He joins us from Eugene, Oregon.

Well, let’s jump right into it, Gene. How important is it to network when you do a job search?

Gene Rhee:

Oh, Mac, it’s extremely important. When it comes to networking, well, first, I think people were just designed to be in community, and I think this is just one way to do that. When it comes to a job search, certainly, there are practical elements that I think benefit people that get into it. It significantly increases your chances of success in your job search.

But it’s not just about the job search. I think you put yourself in a position to help other people, and I think that’s the beauty of it. If it’s for your own job, you get to discover partnerships or other ideas of what you could be doing. But on a very base level, I think you get a chance to meet interesting people and I think it’s great.

Mac Prichard:

I like the point you’re making, Gene, about how it’s not just about networking and asking for help; it’s also about being of service to others. Can you talk more about that?

Gene Rhee:

I can, yeah. Like most people, I think, listening to this podcast around the world, networking doesn’t come naturally, and there was an article I read that I use now when I’m helping hundreds of students and alums with their own job search, and it really reframed this idea of networking, that it wasn’t just about what can I get out of this situation. That this is some sort of transaction. That I’m gonna go into this, and I’m gonna come out with something.

And that reframing was this idea that to do networking successfully, actually, go into it with the thought of how can you help others. And for me, and as I share that with other people, you can kind of see a lightbulb go off in people’s heads, and even their facial expressions like, oh, that makes it different. That makes it more appealing.

And so, if you find yourself at an event or thinking about going to something, and you’re about to walk in, thinking, I want to go into this situation, and I have the ability to help other people, I think it takes the pressure off of you, and it’s not about you, you, you. It’s not about what can I get out of this. But it’s the kind of reframing that I think is important, and it really helps people in getting involved in networking activities.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say to a listener who might think they don’t have anything to offer others, especially when it comes to networking? What have you seen work well with the students and alums that you coach when it comes to making suggestions for how they can help others?

Gene Rhee:

Yeah, well, I mean, I won’t lie. I think there is a level of some small preparation that I think that everyone can do. And I think it’s just simply, what are some basic questions I might want to ask every single person I meet? And honestly, I think you can figure that out in just a couple of minutes.

But if you find yourself sort of struggling or thinking that you can’t provide anything, and let’s be clear, I’m not talking like you need to provide solutions and new product ideas for people. Just simply listening and being curious, and paying attention to the person in front of you can go an extremely long way. If I’m honest, I think most people, when people ask them questions about their experience and who they are and how they got somewhere, or what they’re working on, I think most people like to talk about those things, and if there’s someone in front of you that’s asking those questions and really honestly being curious and engaged and interested, it leaves the other person feeling so good.

And so, even if you feel like you can’t provide something and you’re not experienced, or you’re entering an environment that it’s not your industry, it’s not your area, I think you can still pay attention to people, be curious about what they’re saying and make people feel good. In fact, I think that leaves people feeling really good about themselves.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve got a list of effective best practices that good networkers follow. But I’m curious, Gene, what stops candidates from networking well? What have you seen stand as a barrier?

Gene Rhee:

Yeah, I think mostly people are just a little nervous about it. They don’t find themselves in those situations very often, and when you’re not practicing something, you don’t feel confident, and when you’re not confident about something, you don’t want to do it. I think for some, it’s just extremely unnatural, and it just feels awkward, and so, again, people just shy away from those kinds of things.

For others, busy lives. For students, they’ve got classes and group projects and a lot of work and studying. Folks in their twenties, they’ve got social lives and dating and work. And then, when you get into your thirties and forties, I think family becomes a real thing.

And so, I think there’s prioritization that goes on, and folks decide to do other things. Maybe we’ll get into this later on, but I think the idea that networking doesn’t have to be an event. It doesn’t have to be that thing, that happy hour event. What I would put forth is that networking happens all of the time, everywhere, in the communities that you already have.

And so, I think, again, this idea of reframing what networking is can really be helpful to people that it doesn’t have to be that one thing for two hours that I have to go to and exchange business cards. But instead, these are the engagements, the situations, or the communities that I’m already a part of, and it’s happening all around me all the time.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about that. You’ve got a list of best practices you see effective networkers follow, and you have five items on your list, and the first one is to understand who you are and the value of your own experiences. Tell us more about this, Gene.

Gene Rhee:

Before I answer that question, Mac, I do want to acknowledge that this stuff is hard. So, for folks that are listening in, if this feels unnatural to you, then be kind to yourself. You need to sort of dip your toe in and just get started, and I think also to manage your expectations. That it will take some time to become comfortable doing this kind of stuff, and the reframing I talked about is not gonna happen overnight. I think that it requires some repetitive thoughts to get you into the mindset of, oh, this happens all around me all of the time.

But to answer your question around knowing yourself, Mac, I think the reality is, people, we naturally judge other people, whether we believe that or not. I think we all do that to some degree. And when you are talking to someone else or when you’re listening to them, they’re asking you questions. I think you need to spend a little bit of time just understanding yourself and knowing yourself a little bit more.

What do I mean by that? What are some of the things that you enjoy doing? What are the things that you are good at? What are the things that are important to you? So maybe you’ve heard the three things: values, interests, and skills.

And I think spending some time there to unpack that for yourself is important. Because I think if someone asks you that question, you’ll be able to respond in a way that, oh, this person has thought about these things, and I get to understand that a little bit more. So, I think that’s sort of the basis of that question.

Mac Prichard:

When you do that work, and you’re clear about those three areas, and you’re meeting with people and talking, making the points you just outlined, how do you know it’s working, Gene? How do you know you’re being effective?

Gene Rhee:

Well, I think, by preparing in advance, and I don’t mean scripted. I am just thinking this through and having general ideas. I think it gives you a sense of confidence when you’re around other people, and you can’t control what other people are going to ask. You can’t control your surroundings often. I think you can control how you’re thinking, how you’re feeling, in a certain situation. I think that goes a really long way.

And you’re asking about how do you know that something is successful. Mac, I think that’s a hard question because I don’t want to say that a thirty-minute time is that measurement of success because I’ve had very successful conversations. I’ve had other people, as well, and they could be really quick and impactful, and you could have a long, drawn-out conversation, and it can be very surface-level. So, I don’t think time is it.

I think it’s really, do I know more about myself? And I can share that with others? And do I have these questions I can ask someone else and make them feel as though they were heard? I think that contributes to a successful conversation.

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. We’re gonna take a break, Gene. Stay with us. When we come back, Gene Rhee will continue to share his advice on why you need to network and how to do it well.

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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 Gene Rhee.

He’s the executive director of Mohr Career Services at the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon.

Gene’s office engages industry and alumni to promote career success and lifelong connection to the college.

And he joins us from Eugene, Oregon.

Now, Gene, before the break, we were talking about why you need to network and how to do it well. You have a list of five effective practices that you see good networkers follow.

Number two on your list was, if you’re an effective networker, you gotta know where you want to go. Why is that important, Gene?

Gene Rhee:

Yeah, so this sort of dovetails off of the last point about knowing yourself, and I think it’s actually a piece of that. This comes back to the preparation side of things, where the more that you can prepare and think through and know about yourself, and we talked about those values and the skills and things that you’re good at.

I think this part of knowing where you want to go is also important. I think people are curious about you. Oftentimes, the questions are, where do you work? What do you do? And if you’re thinking about changing, you’re thinking doing something different, thinking about what the future is, then I think it’s important to have thought that through. I think people are curious about that, and if you don’t have an answer, I think that kind of leaves a question mark for someone.

And so, I think it’s important for those that are interested in pursuing something else, if it’s a career change or advancement in a particular area, to have thought that through and to have just an idea. Maybe you don’t have the exact answer. But having narrowed things down a little bit to a couple, I think, gives people a better sense of, oh, I understand who Mac is. I know what he wants to do in the future. If that’s just a really big question mark, then, again, that’s just sort of a question mark for the person. So, I think it’s important to know where you’re maybe pursuing into the future.

Mac Prichard:

Many people, when looking for work, and I did this a number of times early in my career, too, Gene, when they’re asked what they want to do next or where they want to work next, they might say, I’m keeping my options open. Why isn’t that a good answer when you’re networking?

Gene Rhee:

Well, I think if we go back to something I said earlier on is reframing networking to, how can you help someone? And I do believe that there are people that go into networking situations with that concept in mind, that reframe. And if you’re meeting with someone and they’re thinking about how I can help someone, and someone is considering a job change, but they don’t have a clear sense of what that might be, and they’re keeping their options open, well, then me, as a listener, I don’t know what to do with that. How do I help someone who doesn’t know what it is that they want to do?

And I think that the hard thing, and certainly working with students, is, I think, the idea and the concept of career is very anxiety producing. I think students are, they don’t want to be pigeonholed, and they like this concept of keeping their options open because they don’t want to be narrowed into this one box.

And so, for me, I’m not suggesting that you need to know the one thing that you are pursuing, the one thing that you want to do. But again, you can just narrow it down to a few things. And honestly, if you’re struggling with that concept of what it is that you want to do, I oftentimes ask students, what are the things that you enjoy? What are the things that you’re curious about?

You can simply just look at your internet history. And what are the things that you find yourself researching and reading about? Those are the things that you’re interested in, and perhaps those are the things that you might want to dive a little bit deeper into to see, are there job opportunities to be doing that kind of stuff or in that industry in that sector, in covering that topic. And so, again, I don’t want people to feel like you have to have the one answer. But I think narrowing things down really helps yourself, and it really helps others.

Mac Prichard:

Number three on your list of best practices for effective networkers is to think about your network and the closeness of your relationships. What do you have in mind here, Gene? How is this gonna help someone network when they do this?

Gene Rhee:

Yeah, maybe for the people that are a little bit more structured, this might help them. So when I think about my network, I kind of categorize it into three groups, and I’ll just call them first tier, second tier, third tier. And my first tier are the people who know me extremely well. People who will do anything for me basically, and I’m talking family, close friends, people or colleagues that you worked with for years that you built strong relationships with, perhaps even outside of the workplace.

That’s your first tier. That’s your go-to. These are the people that will run through walls for you, and I’m not suggesting that that’s a tier of fifty people. It’s probably pretty intimate, a smaller group. I think it’s important to remember that just because someone’s on this tier who doesn’t work in the industry or the kinds of jobs that you want doesn’t make them not as useful.

So, I guess the analogy would be if I know a dentist, it doesn’t mean that dentists only know dentists. It’s not about who you know. It’s about who they know, and they know lots of different kinds of people. So, that’s sort of the first tier.

The second tier of people that you know but perhaps maybe haven’t worked with you. So, they can’t really speak to your work product, your work ethic, the quality of your work. But they can speak to your character. They know you in other ways. And so, they can sort of vouch for you in that way.

And then, honestly, I just kind of put everyone else in that third tier. Anyone else that’s not in one of those categories.

And so, I think of my network in this way, and I start with that first tier, and I leverage them in terms of reaching out and letting them know this is what I’m looking for, you know, it could be a business partner, it could be a job. But also letting them know these are the kinds of things that I’m looking for. If you can help, please let me know. And then I expand that to the second tier and then reaching out to the third tier.

Mac Prichard:

And how does making that distinction help you become an effective networker? Do you spend less time, for example, with the third group? Or what is the benefit of knowing this and making these distinctions?

Gene Rhee:

Yeah, I think it’s efficiency and time and also increasing my chance of success. I think if I spend more time on that first and second tier, I do those two well instead of focusing on the third tier. The third tier is basically cold calls. I mean, we’re talking about people that I really don’t know or know vaguely. The chance of them returning my phone call or my email is very small.

But the people that are in that first tier or second tier, the chances are greater. And so, I’m using my time more efficiently, and I think my chance of success or just taking it to the next level, the next point of communication, the next point of contact, I think, I increase that there.

Mac Prichard:

Your fourth tip of five best practices for effective networkers is to recognize that networking is a long play. Why is it important to understand this, Gene?

Gene Rhee:

Yeah, I mentioned a little bit ago about managing expectations, and I think it’s important to manage your own expectations here. This is a long play. This is not a next day, oh, I’m gonna reach out to someone, and the next day, I’m gonna get a callback, and the next day, I’m gonna get the interview and be starting at this new job next week. The chances of that happening are very, very small. And so, I think it’s important to just understand that.

If you’re in a job search or a career change, I do think that networking will increase your chance of success. It just will take a little bit longer. So I’m glad that you brought that up and that we’re talking about it because I think for many that, they will try this out, and then after a couple weeks, they decide it’s not working because they’re not seeing the success. I’m still in the same job, or I haven’t found the job.

And so, I think it’s important to just manage your expectations that it’s gonna take a while. But here’s my reality for this is: your alternative is sitting at home and clicking submit with those online applications to jobs. How often are you getting replies to those?

And that situation, I think, it’s really hard because one you’re by yourself, you’re oftentimes not talking to other people, and you’re just on a computer screen, which I think if you’re doing that hours a day, it can just drive you crazy. It’s probably not good for your health. And if you’re not getting responses, then I think that it’s just demoralizing. It puts you in a worse place mentally about your job search.

And so, I feel having the right balance with your networking and having contact with other people puts you in a better frame of mind and allows you to have more success down the line.

Mac Prichard:

Number five on your list of five best practices for effective networkers is, and you touched on this earlier in the first segment, Gene is that networking can happen anywhere. Tell us more about this. Why is it important to recognize that networking isn’t just a conversation on a Zoom call or in a face-to-face meeting in a coffee shop?

Gene Rhee:

Yeah, I think it goes back to the default negative perception that people have about networking. I think people generally think of it as a selfish transaction, and it’s fake, and people don’t want to be a part of that. They want to be a part of things that are genuine and make them feel real about connecting with people. And so, I think trying to reframe this for people or getting people to think about it in a different way releases them from that idea and allows them to take that step into understanding that they’re already doing it.

Think about if you’re part of an exercise class, that is a network. If there are people in that class that you know, you are a part of a  network. If there’s a book club that you’re a part of. If you’re on a softball team. If you are, whatever, it could be a religious group, a church group. There are these things that you are already a part of.

And I think if you can start thinking about those as, oh, I’m already networking. I’m already having conversations with people. I already know people. I think it helps because it helps people understand that they are already doing this. And then it makes them feel like, oh, there’s progress. I don’t have to start something new, which, I think, can be difficult for people. I think understanding that they’re already doing it, I think it helps them do it even more and helps them reframe this idea about networking.

Mac Prichard:

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

Gene Rhee:

Yeah, so here at Mohr Career Services and the Lundquist College of Business, we are looking forward to engaging more alums, and I’m looking forward to that because we have some incredible alums at the University of Oregon and certainly at the Business school. So, I think that sort of is the next phase for me and my team. Yeah, if you’re an alum out there, we’d love to connect with you. You can find me, I guess, on LinkedIn might be the best way.

Mac Prichard:

We’ll be sure to include the URL for your LinkedIn page in the show notes and website article, and if listeners do reach out to you, I hope they’ll mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, Gene, you had a lot of great advice for us today. What’s the one thing, however, that you want a listener to remember about why you need to network and how to do it well?

Gene Rhee:

Yeah, Mac, the one thing I would want listeners to remember is that you are already doing it. So keep doing it.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Jeff Perry.

He’s a leadership and career expert who works with individuals, teams, and organizations.

Jeff also hosts The Engineering Career Coach Podcast.

You’re ready to switch careers.

But before you apply anywhere, says Jeff, you need to understand why you’re making the move.

Join us next Wednesday when Jeff Perry and I talk about how to make an intentional career change.

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This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.