If it’s short term, it’s not really networking.

Here’s a typical scenario. A client comes into my office for an initial coaching session, more often than not because she or he is unemployed – sometimes not, but about to be – but one way or another, that’s about two-thirds of the initial meetings I have.

Inevitably – and early on – we get to one of my key questions: What have you been doing for a job search? Let’s get one of the most common first answers out of the way: job boards. Yech! You know my feeling about them by now, one that’s been proven right a hundred times over, but it’s still the most common first answer, suggesting, perhaps, that Abraham Lincoln might have been wrong when he said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

But that’s not today’s topic; I just had to get it out of the way, because it’s always in the way. The next most common answer is the reason for today’s column, and a far cry better: networking. But because of the way most people approach networking, we see that there’s a difference between doing the right thing and doing the thing right.

Unfortunately, most of the answers about networking are framed something like this: “I’m networking as hard as I can.” Or this: “I’m contacting everyone in my network.” Or even: “I’ve posted my resume and alerted my whole network.” Horrors!

What’s so not right about this is not the increased activity during this time of need (read: unemployment or uncertainty), but the inference that there was less than a concerted effort to be a consistently strong networker all along.

Networking is not something you jump into whenever you need a job, nor is it something you disengage from when things are going well. Networking is a state of mind, a state of being, 24/7/365. So let’s understand the cardinal rule of networking, which is as easy as “A.B.C.” – “Always Be Connecting.” There are many sensible rules about networking, but practicing just this one will take you further than anything else. If you haven’t always been connecting (keeping the flames lit) and then all of a suddent everyone starts hearing from you when you need a job, then how likely will most people be to go out of their way to help?

Indeed, let’s dig deeper. If you haven’t been out there trying to help others – irrespective of your situation – then what can you rightfully expect? One of my seven networking strategies says: Help first, get help next.

Back to the “always” part of “A.B.C.” What makes me sure so many people are not practicing that? Look back at the comments – networking as hard as I can, for instance. That’s about as effective as cramming for a final in college, something I admit I did far too often. Networking as hard as you can, which is never as effective as always being connected, is validation of one of my favorite aphorisms: One step taken in advance is greater than ten steps taken to catch up.

Therefore, if you’re networking specifically to get a job in the short term, you’re not really networking. You’re (pick one) out fishing, sounding an alarm, hitting on friends, soliciting, begging, or any of a number of other activities that are not entirely uncalled for, but let’s not beat around the bush. That’s not what great networking is. At best, it’s “defensive networking.”

Great networking is, yes, having an extensive number of connections, but concentrating on quality even more than quantity, making sure the connections you have are people you know, people with whom you can foster a mutually supportive relationship, people you’d be more than willing to help. I ignore many connection invitations per day from people I’ve never met who are clearly not interested in joining my network, but in selling me something or getting something from me. You do, too. That’s not networking.

So it’s logical to ask – and many do – how to find the time to “always be connecting” if you have so many connections – and so much to do. That one’s simple. Believing that any good connection should hear from you at least twice a year, devote just ten minutes each day for two quick emails or calls, simple “I’ve been thinking of you” outreaches, and you’ll be well on your way to “always be connecting.”

There’s more, of course, but start here.

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