THE BLOG
11/20/2014 03:26 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

Networking at Thanksgiving in 5 Steps

Whaaaat? Networking on Thanksgiving? Carlota, you (charming) succubus, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself. Thanksgiving is for emotionally-fraught, passive-aggressive interaction (or, something) with your family, as you gorge on turkey and watch football! Thanksgiving is for giving thanks, and some disdain, for what we have, and then waiting all night in line to buy more crap that we don't need. Carlota, where are your values??

Simma down. If you really think networking and Thanksgiving are mutually exclusive, I immediately know that you don't understand what it means to network. If you don't understand the fundamental value and pervasiveness of networking, I'm going to guess that such paucity of vision is reflected in your "career," or, more likely, lack thereof. Networking is all about making an (emotional) connection with people, and using that "click" to help one another. If networking is all about connecting and bridging the gap...wouldn't your family be ideal for this social experiment? Wouldn't Thanksgiving, a time when all the family is gathered together, be "zero hour" to start connecting?

You're still giving me The Look. You're thinking, "Who the hell would my mom or dad or Aunt Grace even know, for f**k's sake?" Excellent question. Why don't you ask them? Before your mom, after all, was just your birth canal, she was her own person, with her own unique dreams, and desires and ambitions. How much do you really know about her education, and career? How much do you really know about the people in your family? Hey, I have a crazy idea! This Thanksgiving, why don't you turn off your phone, and talk to your family? Why don't you connect with your mom? Because once you guys start talking--and yes, by "talking," I mean you ask her questions and LISTEN to her, and engage her-- you might be shocked at all she's done and thought and experienced....not to mention the amazing people she can introduce you too.

If you're trying to change your life (i.e. change your opportunities), but you've already decided that no one in your family has ever done anything worthwhile, or could ever help you...wow, you're really committed to making an already grueling process even worse. Good luck with that. Ever considered anti-depressants or therapy for those feelings? Because, even when you're operating on all four cylinders, getting a good job is exhausting. You have to use the tools you have today, to create the opportunities you need tomorrow. (If not therapy, some people find a dominatrix very helpful...)

Plus, networking within one's family has historical precedent. The Russian House of Romanov, for example, ruling for a little longer than 300 years, and, at one period, mastering 1/6th of the planet, did not achieve their glory and gold through LinkedIn. They married children to their first cousins, thus ensuring that family obligations were respected and (frequently brutally) enforced. Family worked together--besides the usual poisonings, executions, blah blah blah--and thus were thrones and power kept all in the family. If networking was good enough for the Romanovs, it's good enough for you to go home this Thanksgiving with a plan to politely and intelligently ask your Uncle Walt for a favor.

Here's 5 steps to get started:

1. Identify exactly what kind of help you need You have to know what you're looking for, in order to find it. Corny and true. There's a world of difference between going home and badgering your successful relations with a vague, whiny demand for some kind of "job help," vs. making a thoughtful, intelligent request for useful, specific assistance. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? If, for example, your uncle works at an airline, asking him, with a guilty giggle, for a job, any job, is just going to irritate him. You're putting all the responsibility on him; you're expecting him to speak to HR about you, find out what positions are open, discover what your expertise is, decide what job you could handle...yeah, no, that's not going to happen. However, if you've researched your uncle's company, seen what jobs they have on offer, and present yourself and your request for aid, in a manner making it clear that your skills and education are relevant and valuable to his company's goals...bingo. Now you're giving someone a reason to get involved, and help you. Take this time, before Thanksgiving, to be honest with yourself: What's wrong with your job search, or your career trajectory? What kind of help do you need? You don't have carte blanche to ask your family to solve your issues--that's your responsibility, Sunshine--but if you can identify a reasonable yet precise request, and demonstrate how it would benefit you... ahh, now you're helping people to help you. (Now, you're golden, Ponyboy.)

2. Connect and research. Once you've identified what you're looking for, start connecting with relatives on LinkedIn and Facebook. Use the Googles. Start looking for connectivity between what you need, and the lives of your family members: Where did your aunts and uncles and cousins and their spouses and partners attend school? Where do they work? Whom do they know? Look deep enough and you'll realize that whoa, your mom's younger sister spent 15 years as an executive at your dream firm. Again, part of this process is realizing that family members are not just your relations, but real people, in their own right, with their own careers and ambitions and goals. Part of this process is taking the time to get to know your own family, and emotionally connecting with them... perhaps for the first time.

3. Practice your pitch. Now that you know what you want, and whom you'll need to impress, practice your pitch. How exactly are you going to ask for help? You'll want to give your listener a solid understanding of what it is you're looking for, and why they should put their professional reputations on the line. How you ask for help is crucial. I myself worked in TV for many years. I frequently have people asking me for referrals. When people send me a text that reads, no lie, "Hey, Carlita, can u help me werk for FOX news :)?? tx" Sure. Of course. Of course, I'd be happy to help, and the help you need is a dictionary and my fist in your face.
When it comes to successful networking, how you ask is just as important as what you ask. How you ask for help says a great deal about you and your long-term propensity for success. Ideally, you want a pitch that makes it clear you've researched both your relative's background, and the company/industry in question, that you understand the industry, what it is you're asking for, and you have good reason to believe your background would be useful to said company/industry. When you've done your pitch right, your listener will be thinking, "Hmm, wow." (PS: Have your flawless resume ready, but don't offer it unless asked.)

4. You get more with sugar than salt. If you want people to help you, show up with a smile, make eye contact, ask people about themselves, turn off your damn phone, and connect. Dress nicely, wash the dishes before you're asked, take part in discussions at the dinner table, compliment people on their cooking, bring cookies...you might be shocked to see how far a little kindness gets you in this life.

5. You're going to feel super lame, but do it anyway. Oh my god, how lame are you going to feel, asking your cousin's husband, Larry, for a referral to his tech company? Beyond lame! On the other hand, how AWESOME will it be when, 6 months from now, you're offered a great job by Larry's company? "Until you're ready to look foolish, you'll never have the possibility of being great." M.C. Escher If you're feeling lame, or weird, or crazy, it probably means you're stepping outside of your (un)comfort zone and that's the only way great achievements have the oxygen to blossom in your life.

Finally, let's say you do all this research and nope, no one in your family can help you. Okay, that's frustrating...but keep going. You did the hardest part--you got started. You dared to believe in your best, instead of committing to your fears. Keep going. Join your college and grad school alumni associations, reach out to people from high school, band, church, temple, former girl and boy scouts: keep connecting, and make the opportunities you need. Keep going!

I'm writing this before Thanksgiving so you'll have some time to grit your teeth and make this happen. Find out who will be seated around the Thanksgiving table, log on to LinkedIn, Facebook and Google, and get to work. What's the worst that can happen? Your relative says no? Okay, maybe, sure......but what if they say yes? Life is hard enough without you preemptively rejecting yourself. Believe in yourself, and your goals, and do the work necessary to allow yourself to succeed. Want more help? Leave a question in the comments, or, if you're feeling shy, email me at carlotazee@gmail.com. I wouldn't tell you to attempt this, if I didn't know you could do it. Keep going.