There are two types of networking — good and frustrating.

Most of us are so busy with our careers that we rarely have the time, or create the time, to consider the difference. Let me give you an example.

networkingExecutive recruiters are understandably in hot demand, particularly when the job market contracts. For executives who have lost their job or who are worried that a consolidation is imminent, making a connection with a search consultant seems to be the gold standard for building a network. From the recruiter’s perspective it is flattering that so many people want time on your crowded schedule to build a relationship, but while is satisfying, it is impractical to take every call. Moreover, candidates should understand that search firms are not the only game in town since they handle less than 40 percent of all the executive hires that are completed each year. This means that while connecting with recruiters is important, you cannot stop there. You have to do what I call strategic networking, employing a strategy that is tied to the types of companies you would like to work for and/or geographic location. More on that in Thursday’s blog post.

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When you do try to connect with a recruiter, and they agree take the call, be prepared. That can, and probably will, make the difference between a good networking experience and a frustrating one.  “Frustrating” and “conversation with a recruiter” are a word and a phrase that should not be used in the same sentence. And yet it happens far too often.

Let me share an experience to illustrate this point. Obviously, I am not going to use his real name or name the industry segment in which he works because even after the call ended, I was still not sure. I will say this:  He was earnest, enthusiastic, articulate and obviously bright. I credit him with taking the initiative to, after receiving one of my standard “thanks for connecting with me” messages on LinkedIn, push to set up a call to learn more about what I do. But here is where the networking train ran off the tracks and I own part of the blame.

At the appointed time, he called and one of his first questions was, “What do you do?”

Pause.  I thought he knew based on my thank you for connecting with me note and the ample information on my website, blogs and podcasts that I linked in my initial note. I thought it was pretty clear what I did.  Score one for frustrating.

Anyone who is actively engaged in networking over the years has, more than likely done something like this. So what did he do wrong? He was not prepared for the call and little or nothing in his messaging gave me a clue what he wanted to discuss. So, I immediately asked what I could do for him.

But then he said something, or I thought I heard something, that gave me reason to think that he was interested in career networking guidance since that is what the vast majority of my incoming networking calls are about. At least that is what I thought I heard, so I launched into a spiel on career management.  When I finished there was a long pause. Wow, he said, that was a lot to take in. Clearly I had missed the mark. That was not what he was interested in. Obviously I  was not listening in an active manner. So now I have evened the score — we’ve each made a silly networking mistake. Frustration was winning the day.

My caller then took the lead. He told me about his career progression, that he left school and was now working for a man who had taken a real interest in him and that he felt valued and, by the way, he was not planning to return to school. We talked about whether that was a good strategy, but he was more interested in connecting me with several people he knew who might be able to help my business.

A worthy and generous offer and something that is at the core of good networking — you should always be focused on the value you can provide someone versus adopting the “what’s in it for me” perspective. The problem was that these networking contacts were not in my area of specialization. They were probably very talented people and might be good people to know if I was in their field, but if you are relying on strategic networking, investing time with people outside your sphere of expertise or influence may not be a good investment of time.

In building your professional contacts, you want to be open to new connections, you want to be helpful and you want to contribute value to the networking equivalent of the counterpart, but you also have to be disciplined in your approach.

When we get the call, we should be prepared to make that time count, and to add value to one another’s experience. Good is much better than frustrating.