Whether you’re looking for a new job or your next consulting gig or need to expand your professional reach, it is crucial to invest your time networking with those you know and haven’t yet met. Every new job, consulting project, or client I’ve ever landed came through someone I already knew or was introduced to. And like many, I’ve wasted countless hours sending resumes with carefully written cover letters in response to posted jobs—not once did these exercises prove fruitful. Sound familiar? Too often you’re sending your credentials into the big black hole with dozens if not hundreds of others only to get frustrated by not even receiving a “thank you” note in return.
Your time will best be spent leveraging your connections to find those unpublished positions and opportunities… or you can work with others to create your own opportunities. You might be surprised at how eager people are to lend a helping hand. Here are some must-do action items to kick-off your networking initiative:
Never Be Without Business Cards. And I don’t mean ones that you print on your home printer. Get some high quality business cards. Personally speaking, I’m less than impressed by someone who hands to me a flimsy, homemade business card on which you can still see the perforation chards. And if you don’t have a job, consider including your name, contact details, and a few lines about your expertise and specialty areas.
Never Leave Home Without Them. Once you have your crisp new cards, never leave home without them—you never know when you’ll meet someone with whom you’d like to follow up. I’ve made some great contacts in the darnedest places! One of my favorite clients developed from a chance chit-chat on the chairlift at a ski resort all because I had a strategically placed business card in my ski jacket pocket.
Leverage Social Media. The number of social media outlets are too numerous to count these days and yes, this gets overwhelming. If you’re not already connecting online, select one or two outlets and get involved. Don’t just sit back and spectate—contribute to the online community. Post relevant articles and valuable comments for the groups you join. For me, I like to keep my personal and professional contacts separate so I reserve LinkedIn for business relationships and Facebook for personal ones. Once your profile is live, keep it up-to-date, and leverage others in your network for introductions.
Give to Get. Pay it forward. Before asking for help from someone, ask if there’s anything you can do to help them without expecting anything in return. By giving things away, be it time, information, introductions, or other assistance, you lay the foundation for others to want to reciprocate.
Volunteer. Along the same lines, don’t underestimate the relationships you can develop through your charitable acts. You never know who you might meet. As an added bonus, you can include your accomplishments on your online profile(s) and resume if appropriate.
Network Strategically. Every day of the week, there is a meeting, workshop, networking event, or gathering of some sort where you can meet and network with others. We can’t possibly go to more than a handful of them as it gets costly and time consuming. Be choosey about where you invest your time and dollars. Try out several of them and then ask yourself where you’ll most likely meet the type of people you really need to know and then focus on that limited number and get involved in those groups.
Swallow Your Pride. Yes, it is hard to admit that you’re looking for a job or need someone’s help. Let your network know how they can help you. If people think you’re happily employed, you won’t be top of mind when the perfect opportunity for you comes to their attention.
Follow Up. Collecting business cards and LinkedIn connections is all well and good… but then what? People are all so busy juggling too many things at once these days that keeping up your network can sometimes feel like its own full time job. After meeting someone new, be sure to reach out with a short, polite note to thank them for connecting, or letting them know it was nice to meet them at such-and-such event. Pay them a sincere compliment. Offer to help them. Let them know how they may be able to assist you. If appropriate, offer to meet them over coffee either in person or have a “cyber-coffee” together—you each get your own coffee at your respective locations and schedule a follow up telephone or video chat.
If you have any other great networking tips, please share them! Forward them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org… I’d love to hear what’s worked best for you!