08/26/2014 02:36 pm ET Updated Oct 26, 2014

Stop Wasting My Time: Being a More Powerful Part of a Professional Network

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I'm looking for a new job, and I've given notice at my current job in the meantime. I started my search by activating my network and sending out a query for assistance in connecting to job opportunities, but to my dismay, the replies I received were often not as helpful as I had hoped. In a moment of exasperation after a day of time-wasting, I told a friend I was going to write a blog so people would know how to do better in the future. I'm bold like that. Even so, she looked at me sharply, with altitude-adjusted eyebrows. "Shouldn't you be happy with any kind of help?" she asked. "No," I replied, "because if we're going to be powerfully networked, there should be a lot more dialogue about how we can best harness and unleash that power in a meaningful way."

The Gossipers

I'm leaving a job where I'm friends with the CEO, after over a decade (on and off) of working together. I've been in my current position for four years. And so, this leads to natural curiosity about why I'm leaving, and I expected to answer some questions. What I didn't expect is that some people would respond to my request for help in my job search with a note about how we have to meet right away, just so they could ask me for the scuttlebutt on why I'm leaving. Of course, this is not helpful to me at all, and the reason isn't as juicy as these chatty patties were hoping, so we both end up wasting our time.

The Opportunists

Others responded to my email or LinkedIn note with "Hey, let's get together this week..." but apparently, just so we could chat. After meeting up, hoping there would be some lead or possible intro, and listening to their own career challenges for several minutes, and then connecting about our kids and personal trivia, I learn they have no ideas about my job search whatsoever. Mm, OK, nice to see ya, but really, I need to find a job. These kind of invites showed me that I also need to improve and do better at periodic face time with people in my network so that when I need them for a specific business purpose, we're already caught up on each other's lives.

The Advice Columnists

These fall into both positive and negative categories, and the good advice I've received has made me a better candidate, stronger and more confident in my own abilities. But in many cases, the advice doesn't fit my situation, or is generic which doesn't help me in my specific, targeted activity of finding a job. In the worst case, the advice is disheartening: "You REALLY quit your job before finding another one? In this market? Aren't you terrified? You should be!"

The Truly Helpful

There have been some savvy souls who are truly helpful. They include people who have asked good questions about my current situation and asked questions about how they can help. Others have introduced me to other colleagues, specific job opportunities or recruiters they've used in the past. Some have pointed me to blogs or other content which will prove useful in my search or have offered to be a reference and have written me recommendations I can use to position myself in my search. I've also appreciated those who offer a listening ear, for the many times in which I have wanted to ask for an opinion or get some emotional support.

In all cases, the truly helpful have been specific about what they can (or cannot) do for me, they've asked thoughtful questions, and they haven't been overly pushy, in case what they're offering isn't a good fit for me. In all cases where I connected with these I folks, I knew up front before we met what the meeting was about and whether it was time sensitive, so I could choose how to prioritize my time as I get meeting invites from prospective employers and other career-influential colleagues.