Networking is the single most effective way to job hunt and to increase business opportunities. Without a circle of high quality professional acquaintances, you will be severely disadvantaged throughout your career. However, building this circle requires planning and you have to continually work at it. How do you get started? Most importantly, how do you make sure you aren’t turning people off or damaging your reputation? Read on to learn the fundamentals of effective networking - what TO do and what NOT to do.
How to Start
- There’s really no single formula. However, I recommend that you start with a specific goal and timeframe. For example, decide to meet 3 new people in your field who work both in your company and in other firms over the next 6 months. Once you “program” that goal into your brain, you’ll be amazed at the number of opportunities that come your way. Sign up for seminars, attend presentations, take a class, or ask a friend to introduce you to someone. Just get going. And don’t worry about imposing – people are generally very nice and like to help each other out.
How to Get People Interested in You
- Who are you interested in networking with? Probably people who are cheerful, hard-working, well put together and well thought of, right? Well, then you need to work on being that kind of person yourself. You have to demonstrate that you are worth building a relationship with.
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, let them do most of the talking. People love to talk about themselves. Ask them about their interests, profession…whatever. First, you’ll learn pretty quickly if this person is someone you want to keep in touch with. Second, if you do ask them for their business card or contact information, they will gladly give it to you because they now look upon you very favorably as being “a good listener”. Make sure you ask for permission to contact them in the future. Don’t assume that you can. Just say something like “I’m glad we met. May I keep in touch with you?” If you’ve used the active listening approach I described, they always say “Yes” or “Of course”.
If someone isn’t interested in networking with you, just back off. Don’t bug them or try to change his or her mind. Be objective about why this is the case and try to determine if there is something about yourself that needs improvement. If they never come around, don’t worry about it. The world is a big place and there are plenty of great people out there.
Start Off Conservatively
- Wait for at least 24-48 hours to pass before getting in touch with someone after you meet them. Otherwise, they might get the impression that you’re needy or over-eager. Don’t ask for huge favors the very first time you communicate with someone, either. Networking is a give-and-take process, not a one-time event. People don’t “owe” you anything just because you were introduced or exchanged business cards.
Mind Your Manners
- What ever happened to “Please” and “Thank you”? People of all ages are violating this basic rule and it’s appalling. Use an appropriate level of formality and respectful tone. Over time you can become more relaxed but never, ever lose basic courtesy. If you’re sending an email, watch your grammar and spell check it before sending. If you’re leaving a voicemail, write it out first and practice saying it a few times. That way, it will be delivered it smoothly and naturally. Your verbal and written communication reflects who you are.
Demonstrate Respect for Process and Position
- Don’t ask people to go around their company’s internal processes or to leap over organizational levels for you. This puts them on the spot. Instead, ask them to explain what their company’s process is and who they recommend that you contact. Always, always ask for permission to use their name before doing so. This approach shows that you are a responsible and trustworthy person. And, you will ultimately get in touch with the right individual(s) through a series of personal internal referrals Trust me – this works.
Set Up a Schedule
- A preset schedule will ensure that you keep in regular contact with your networking circle. 2-3 times a year is a good guideline, unless you are working with someone on a specific project or request. Make it a convenient time for them – breakfast, coffee, lunch, or after work. Keep it to 30 minutes. If the other person wants to make it longer, let them suggest it, not you.
Keep the Conversations Productive
- Be completely professional and upbeat in your networking activities. Networking is not a vehicle for you to whine, complain, or badmouth. It’s an opportunity for you to learn from others and to help them out as well. Anybody who is a quality individual for you to know will not be interested in listening to garbage. In networking circles, word travels fast about which people to avoid. Don’t get on that list.
Be a Giver, Not a Taker
- Keep track of how many times you ask for favors. You should be giving and taking in equal measure. End each conversation with “Thanks for your time. Please tell me how I can help you. ” Even if the other person says “Oh, don’t worry about it. ” or “I don’t really need anything right now. ” - they will always remember you as being a very unselfish and thoughtful person. I cannot stress enough how much networking is about helping others. Again, word travels fast about which people just take, take, take and never do anything for anyone else. Don’t get on that list, either.
Be on Your Best Behavior at all Times
- Not everyone is an outgoing extrovert. And we all have bad days. But the world is a small place and people have long memories. You never know who you will run into and whose assistance you will need, even if it’s years and years from now. You can never go wrong by being kind and respectful to everyone all the time.
You Must Sow Before You Reap
- Start networking NOW. Don’t wait until you need something. There is nothing more annoying than getting a phone call from someone you just met or someone who hasn’t been in touch for years (or worse yet, didn’t return your calls when you contacted them) asking for a big favor.
If you truly don’t need anyone or anything right now, then reach out to others and help them. And be sincere about it. Develop the reputation for being someone who helps others. Not only is it the right thing to do, but by doing so, you will build up a “bank” of goodwill that you can easily tap into when you really need it. Believe me, that day will come and when it does, you’ll be amazed at the outpouring of assistance you’ll get.
Protect Your Good Name and Reputation
- Don’t feel obligated to let just anyone into your personal network. Be especially careful if you have any doubts about how a person’s behavior will reflect upon you, even if you’ve known this person since childhood or if she is your second cousin. It can take someone less than 5 minutes to ruin the good reputation you’ve spent years and years building.
Don’t blow the person off. Return the phone call and listen to the request with respect. Then simply say “I wish I could help you out. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position right now to be of assistance. If things change, I’ll certainly get in touch with you. ” Leave it at that.
Dee Piziak is a manager for a Fortune 500 company and a university instructor. Her consulting firm, Acadia Communications, specializes in professional coaching, career development, and resume writing. Visit her website at http://www.acadiacommunications.com