Leaders are fully aware of the value of networking, a planned approach to connecting with others for shared benefits. Although they might not call it a network, most people in the workforce have a substantial circle of contacts that serve them well when they need it. The tips that follow are designed to provide you with the skills for recognizing and cultivating relationships to increase your success in business and to improve your chances of obtaining an even better job, should you ever decide to leave the one you have. (Experts tell us that as many as 80% of all new jobs are found through networking.)
You may be thinking that networking will get you noticed by colleagues and strangers. This is true. But it will also get you noticed by your boss. In fact, one survey found the top three qualities that executives want in their assistance were empowerment, good listening skills, and networking abilities.
How can you get noticed?
The following guidelines should help improve your networks and your networking skills. As you review the list, isolate the one suggestion that you can put into effect before this day is over. While the tips are specifically for networking events, many are crossovers into every- day events.
• Take the initiative by introducing yourself first to a stranger.
• Work the room at a networking event. Don’t spend the entire evening talking to just one person, no matter how fascinating he may be.
• Ask for a business card. Give yours in return. (If you don’t have one, promise yourself you will have some made—they are remarkably inexpensive—or create your own on the computer.)
• As soon as you are alone, jot a few notes on the person’s business card to help you remember her when you do a follow-up.
• Spend at least half of your encounter time with each person explaining how you might be of service to him.
• Before abandoning someone with whom you feel you have little in common, remind yourself that this person has her own network. Even if she cannot assist you directly, she has friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, golf buddies, etc. Any one of them may prove to be a good networking partner for you.
• If you are serious about building your networks, do not refuse invitations. You never know who might be at that church social you feel too tired to attend.
• Schmoozing is the name of the networking game. It may feel insincere or awkward to you in the beginning, but remember that small talk frequently leads to big deals over time. And if you are in the business of getting noticed, you will want to excel at becoming a key player in the networking game.
• Be very clear about who you are and what you can do. Have an opening that sparkles and makes others want to learn more about you.
• Follow up all important leads as soon as possible after the event.
• Recognize the mobility inherent in today’s workforce. The lead who declined to use your services a few months ago might have been replaced by someone who now needs them.
• Get known as a “doer.” You would be surprised by how many influential people are associated with organizations that cannot pay you for your services, but who appre- ciate them nonetheless.
• Volunteer for some speaking stints—a few magnificent words at a retirement party, a moving eulogy for a beloved co-worker, a presentation at a conference—all these can make you memorable when the time comes.
• Make your needs known. You might be looking for a new apartment/job/doctor. The person you are speaking to may be looking to sublet or resign from his current posi- tion or might have found the most caring physician in the whole city. Unless you speak up, chances are you will never make the needed connection.
Test your networking skills with this exercise, which works best in a group of about 30 people who, ideally, don’t know each other very well at all. Set a timer for 12 minutes and try to find three other people in the room with whom you have something unusual in common. It cannot be the fact that you are both women or surfers or readers. That is way too easy.
Instead, your commonality should be something rarer—for example, you have both vacationed in Aruba or you have both seen the Broadway play Chicago or that you both took flute lessons as children. If you can accomplish this within the specified timeframe, you should commend yourself on your superb networking skills. (In the real world, of course, you would take a somewhat smoother approach to uncovering the commonalities.)
People, like elephants, have surprisingly good memories. Word will spread about your willingness to help others. The spread will extend to circles well beyond your own.
How will being a resource for others get you known in different circles?
From this moment forward, think more often than you do currently about whom you can refer to whom. Keep in mind the popular saying, “The person with the fattest Rolodex wins,” as you make referrals to and from the various networks of which you are a part.
You are blessed with a good mind. (You would not be reading this book and absorbing new knowledge if you did not have such intellectual prowess.) But you are probably not using it to its fullest capacity. Scientists tell us that we are only applying a fraction of what we have. Start thinking creatively about ways to bring people together for networking. If you are part of a professional association, suggest new events to the planning committee.
(By the way, if you are not part of such a group, it may be time to join.) These events will bring like-minded people and unlike-minded people together. (Variety is the spice of networking life.) What other possibilities can you add to the list?
What opportunities will put like-minded people together?
• Arrange a symposium, once you have obtained your boss’s approval, of course. Make it hour-long or daylong; invite people in your department, in your company, in other divisions, in other companies. Have bosses appear at an appointed hour and give them a round of applause before they go back to work, thus thanking them for their willingness to support employee development. Ask vendors to contribute door prizes. Spend as much quality time as you can organizing such an event. If your time is lim- ited, make the occasion limited in scope.
• Organize some after-work socializing. Once a month, invite people who should know each other to a coffee house, restaurant, or to your home for informal networking that can benefit all of you.
• Arrange a series of lunchtime lectures. You will find numerous consultants, police officers, professors, and others, more than willing to come in and address your group on the issues of concern to them.
Mentoring, like any other aspect of life, can get out of hand. It is altogether possible it can overtake your life if you let it. You can and should serve as a mini-mentor to your network associates, but do so judiciously. If you try to be all things to all people, you will soon be drained of your emotional and temporal reserves.
How can you become a mini-mentor to your network?
As appropriate, apply these mentoring suggestions:
• Determine what the most valuable things your past mentors have given you. Then resolve to share some of those very things with those you mentor.
• Send notes of congratulations when your mentees achieve a goal.
• Build your mentees’ self-confidence by urging them to eliminate such self-critical comments as “I’ve never been good with numbers,” “I always forget to do that,” “This will sound like a dumb question, but…”
• Discuss their career paths and career plans with them from time to time.
• Ask your mentees what you can do for them.
• Develop a list of who-knows-what and who-knows-whom. For example, if one person has a sister-in-law who is a literary agent and another person is just finishing a book, the list could prove invaluable in bringing “suppliers” and “demanders” together.
- Polish your feedback skills.
- Determine non-obvious commonalities you share with your mentees. Weave these
common interests, when suitable, in your discussions.
What ways of giving praise will make even the smallest thank-you remembered?
If you wish to be remembered, you have to do the memorable thing. Simply saying “thank you” will not do it. Nor will purchasing a commercial thank-you card and dashing it off with your signature. You are smart enough to show appreciation in very special ways. We will give you a few ideas, if you promise to add a few more to the list.
• Bake or make something delicious and have it delivered by courier to those individu- als whose help has truly enriched your life.
• Make your own greeting card (dried flowers always add a nice touch). Practice callig- raphy so the handwriting matches the sentiment in terms of beauty.
• Buy a small book (some cost less than greeting cards), inscribe it, and mail it to the person’s office as a show of your appreciation.
How can you keep in touch with your network?
Quickly scan the names on your Rolodex or electronic address book once a week—perhaps when you are on hold or waiting for something to be downloaded. If you have kept it up-to- date, then you will have recorded the last time you contacted each person on your list. (If you are not making such notations, by the way, it’s time to start.) If it has been a while since you have connected, send the person an e-mail, card, note or voice-mail message to let him know you are thinking about him and apprising him of what is been happening in your life/career of late.
Of course, if you are experiencing change—say, the company has indicated there will be downsizing in the near future—you may wish to enlist the networker’s help in adjusting to your new circumstances.
As you flip through or scroll down through the names and business cards you have col- lected, think about something you have learned, heard, or seen lately that might benefit the people in your network.
Again, you are limited only by your own creativity when it comes to finding ways to expand the visibility and expertise of those in your network.
How can you expand the visibility and expertise of those in your network?
• With every bill you pay, include both your own business card and the card of some- one in your networking circle who might be looking for business. If you serve on committees or boards and nominations are needed, think first of those in your net- work.
• A survey asking what CEOs look for reports that they are seeking the traits of friend- liness, intelligence, honesty, and competitiveness in meeting participants. Do an informal survey of your own with various groups and learn what some preferred personality traits are. Share this information with those in your network and think of ways for them to demonstrate these traits (without being overbearing) the next time networking opportunities arise.
• Encourage fellow networkers to make deposits in the banks named “Going-out-of- your-way-for-someone-else” before they have to make withdrawals. Help guide your networkers’ efforts by reminding them that, at the end of their lives, it will be more important to say “I made a difference” than to say “I made a million.”