By Piper C. Reason, Possibilities for Career & Life
Networking is just about helping people connect with what they need. Career coaches consider it the most effective job search strategy because somewhere around 70% of jobs are found by networking. Of course networking isn’t just about looking for a job, so how do you hone this vital skill? Just like with every other skill you have ever developed: you just have to practice!
Here are some guidelines to help:
- Be clear with your contact about the reason you’re in touch with him/her. Are you checking out the reputation of a potential vendor? Are you wondering about joining a civic organization? Prepare a short list of questions that will get you the information you need.
- Determine the best way to contact the person. Factors including generation and life and job experiences really impact that way we prefer to communicate. Naturally, some of your networking will involve people you don’t even know, but whenever possible be sensitive to your contact’s communication preferences.
- Prepare a brief introduction. If you’re doing job search, your introduction would most likely include the kind of work you want to do and a little information about your experience, training and education. If you’re wanting to get some kind of business information, you probably want to share something about the nature of your business and how long you’ve been around. It’s always important to share how you got the person’s name (i.e., “My friend Jen at Hannah Grimes suggested I contact you.”)
- Since building a network is a lifelong endeavor, it’s not a bad idea to have a tracking system. Using files, index cards, a notebook, or your computer, create a system for recording the name and contact information for everyone with whom you network. Where they work, their job titles, how you know them, when and how you communicated are all valuable pieces of information to track. (For example, 1/10/12 – had lunch with Martha – suggested I call Jane Doe at 555-3278, John Smith at 555-9862.)
- Get into the right frame of mind. You need to be professional, friendly, thoughtful, and confident. If you aren’t an extrovert, it can be tough, but preparing helps. Do some role play with a friend or practice in front of a mirror. Taking a few seconds to collect yourself can really make the difference in the impression you make. Try deep breaths, visualizations, affirmations, and/or prayer before walking in the door or dialing the number. And make your first couple of contacts with people you know, even if you doubt they’ll have much helpful information.
- Wrapping it up. Before you say goodbye, (a) ask for the names of three other people or resources, (b) make sure to leave your name and contact information, and (c) express your appreciation for the person’s help. If you feel it’s appropriate to schedule some kind of follow up, let them know what you plan to do. (For example, “I’ll let you know how it went,” or “Could I check back with you in a few weeks?”)
- You will definitely want to record the outcome of the communication. (Okay, maybe this is only needed for people like me who have trouble remembering things.) Depending on how your conversation went, you may want to send a thank you note or forward your resumé or note an idea about how you can help the person at some point.
Networking works both ways, so be willing to help others out too. After all, what goes around, comes around!