Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, May, 2017
There is no doubt that networking is a strategy that can help you find a job more quickly. Each person you connect with knows other people, who in turn know people, and on and on. The longer your “chain” of connections, the more likely it is that you will receive job leads.
Many individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder believe that they cannot network because they do not know many people. Or, their discomfort with interpersonal interaction precludes them from reaching out to strangers. However, networking skills can be learned, and even a little networking can go long way.
Usually when I bring up the subject of networking, clients become anxious. They have a picture in their mind of walking into a room full of people and trying to start a conversation. Fortunately, group events are not the only way to network.
I often suggest one-on-one networking. This is direct contact with someone who may be able to assist you. It is a controlled setting, and you can prepare what to say in advance. Begin by reaching out to people you already know (your informal network). This includes family members, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances from a religious organization, volunteer activity or a hobby group.
Dan resisted the idea of networking at first. “I don’t know anyone in accounting,” he said.
“But people you know might have contacts in the accounting field,” I explained. “To find out you need to ask.”
“I don’t want to call people,” Dan replied.
“You can send an email instead,” I said.
Dan was concerned that people would be angry that he “bothered” them. I explained that it is common to reach out to others, whether to find employment, a referral, or for other types of assistance. It is understood (although not specifically stated) that networking is a reciprocal activity. Some of the people Dan contacted might ask him for help one day.
After some brainstorming, Dan was able to identify seven people in his informal network. His list included family members and friends of his parents. We drafted an email, using a conversational (versus formal) tone. Here is what he sent to a relative:
Hi, Uncle Jack. How are you and Aunt Sarah? Everyone here is doing well.
I am beginning my search for an entry-level accounting position. My interest is to work either for an accounting firm or in the accounting department of a corporation. Do you know anyone who might be able to provide job leads or advice about getting hired?
Thanks for your help,
Notice that Dan did not simply ask for job leads. Had he asked, “Do you know any companies that are hiring?” the answer might be, “No.” This ends the conversation quickly! Asking for advice is a way to start a conversation, and can yield helpful information.
Of the seven inquiries Dan sent, one of his mother’s friends put him in touch with a hiring manager at an accounting firm. His uncle forwarded the names of two accountants who agreed to give Dan advice.
Initially, Dan wanted to conduct the networking meetings via email. His plan was to send a list of questions for people to answer. This is not a good idea. Writing responses is time consuming and, for some people, difficult. Additionally, most neurotypicals want face-to-face contact when they network. For Dan and the majority of my other clients, in-person meetings also provide a chance to practice communication skills. (If a contact is located too far away to meet in person, communicating via telephone or Skype is an alternative.)
As Dan became more comfortable with the idea of networking, he agreed to expand his efforts by identifying formal contacts. These include college alumni and professors; former supervisors; current and former co-workers; athletics coaches; others with whom one has a professional versus personal relationship.
It is imperative to carefully prepare for a networking meeting. It is expected that you will present yourself as a capable professional. This means dressing as you would for a job interview, and being prepared to summarize your background and ask the right questions. You should not act in ways that make you appear desperate for work, or make negative statements, such as about your frustration with the job search. Keep the tone positive and businesslike.
Copyright 2017, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching