By Beverly Seinberg
Lead Copywriter

Several years ago, I attended a community “networking event” for women. I had been laid off from a job I’d held for almost 20 years and was having trouble finding another. A friend suggested I attend in hopes of making a connection that would lead to new employment.

Although I’d rather have root canal than make small talk with strangers, I went for it. I had business cards printed advertising my skills, dressed in my best business attire, and walked into what I have since come to call the Desperation Derby – because “Hunger Games” was taken.

Everyone in that room was looking for something. There were unemployed women – like me – looking for jobs. There were business owners looking for new clients. There was even a multilevel marketing “consultant” looking to build her downline. (If you’re blessedly unaware of what MLM means, think Amway, Herbalife and other legal pyramid schemes.) In short, everyone there was trying to get something, and nobody there had anything to give.

I haven’t been to a networking session since – mainly because I was hired by ADG shortly afterward, no thanks to that night – but the word “networking” still makes me think of events like that one.

Then, through a client webinar, I “met” Kari Mirabal, an IT recruiter-turned-networking coach and author of “You Already Have the No.” Kari’s presentation, based on her book, had lots of advice about what I think of as capital-N Networking -- building relationships to help one’s professional growth -- but she also shared two memorable stories that didn’t fit that mold.

One day, she was on the phone with a client who had recently lost his job as a high-level manager with a major retailer. The man cleaning Kari’s swimming pool overheard the conversation and told her he also serviced the pool of a district manager for the company’s largest competitor. Kari had him deliver her client’s resume and business card on his next visit to this customer – and you can guess the ending.

Kari’s son dreamed of a certain job with another major retailer, but it had a minimum age requirement for the position, and he wasn’t there yet. During a visit to a competing retailer, Kari met a young employee who was doing essentially the same job her son wanted. She learned this young man aspired to a full-time IT position. She helped him polish up his resume and LinkedIn profile and gave him some job-search tips. Within three weeks he had three offers in his chosen field – and shortly afterward, Kari’s son had his former position at the store. (He’s still there.)

The moral of these stories is that networking isn’t about schmoozing CEOs and passing out business cards. It’s a game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” where anyone you meet may know someone who can help you, or someone you know – or need help that you, or someone you know, can give them.

The opportunity to network is one of the most valuable benefits associations offer. In taking advantage of that benefit, however, we shouldn’t keep our capital-N Network contacts separate from our small-c connections. A professional colleague might be the source of a career opportunity, but they may also have a connection to someone who can address a personal issue – and vice versa.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as associations spend more time in the virtual space, let’s save room for personal connections. Webinars and other virtual educational programs are important but it’s those online coffee hours, luncheons and happy hours where members can chat about their lives, their families and their personal challenges and use their connections to help solve those challenges.

Maybe Jack in Cleveland mentions at an association coffee hour that his son is struggling with schoolwork since classes went online. Jill in Boston hears this and remembers that her neighbor’s mother is a retired teacher. Jack hires Jill’s neighbor’s mom to tutor his son via Skype. Later, when Jill’s niece in Akron is looking for work in Jack and Jill’s mutual field, Jill knows just whom to hook her up with for advice and possible job leads.

At ADG, we have lots of success stories to share about how the associations we work with are forging those connections, which will benefit our members long after the pandemic is over. Please reach out to us if you’d like to know more – and please stay healthy and safe.