The key to managing your own career is to constantly build your contacts, skills and knowledge. Networking will increase your contacts. Networking can be defined as building and nurturing professional relationships when you do not need them, so they are there for you when you do need them. These professional relationships are so critical to your long-term career success because other people are the main source of information and resources that you will need to achieve your career goals. In school, success more often resulted from knowledge found in books, than from other people. As a matter of fact, if you worked with your classmates during an exam, you would be cheating. In the work-world, collaborating with your peers is called teamwork and is highly valued. To create career options and be your own career manager, you must embrace the reality that networking–inside and outside of your organization– is the primary source for key information and resources that are critical to your career success.
|10 Steps to Successful Networking
Identify the professionals you want to meet, plan on how you will meet them and set a time-table by which you will achieve these networking goals. For example, before attending a professional association meeting: review the list of attendees and identify the specific contacts you would like to make before the meeting is over. If you set your goals before you attend the event, you are much more likely to achieve it. For example, you will often find that one of the people you ear-marked to meet is standing in line in front of you at the registration table. Synchronicity happens when we know what we want. Meeting professional contacts and then re-connecting with them enables you to solidify your networking relationship.
Ask open-ended questions and really listen to what is most important to them. As you listen you will find ways to help by offering information, resources and other people that can address your contact’s needs. For example, you may find that what the person you are speaking with needs most at this moment is a new apartment, good book to read or business referral. The more you find ways to help others, the more your network will thrive. Do you remember the last time somebody helped you with something that was important to you? As human beings we have a healthy need to reciprocate anytime someone has done something of value for us. This is the real key to effective networking–helping others to get what is most important to them. In addition, by focusing completely on others when networking, you will take the pressure off of yourself and be more comfortable initiating these professional relationships.
Before you attend a networking event have at least three conversation starters. These “ice-breakers” can include comments on current news and business events. Be creative and guard against discussing trivial matters such as the weather–it is hard to develop a meaningful dialogue when substance is lacking and you have no sincere interest in the topic. Try to keep up with the media by reading publications such as Crain’s, The New York Law Journal and BusinessWeek. This information will provide you with good leads for initiating networking conversations. But remember to focus on understanding the contact’s needs as soon as the initial conversation has begun.
New contacts will form their opinion of you based upon your initial follow-through, or lack of it. For example, if you meet the chair of a professional committee at an alumni function and she tells you to call her the next day and you do, the chair is much more likely to want to work with you than if you did not keep your commitment, because she now has evidence that you are responsible. It is best to take the initiative in developing the professional relationship. Specifically, it is best to take the contacts card (rather than giving them yours) and say “I will call you later this week.” By taking responsibility for follow-through the “ball is in your court” and you take the pressure off the contact. Try to get in the habit of calling or writing to new contacts within 48 hours of meeting them. You will give them the impression that you are an organized professional that they can count on. In addition, the longer you postpone your follow-up, the harder it is do it.
It is critical to keep in touch with your contacts on a regular basis. Re-connect with them at least once every 6 months. If you constantly think about how you can help others, you will come up with information, resources and other people that can be valuable to your contacts. For example, if you hear about a position that might be of interest to one of your contacts, leave him or her a message informing them about the new job opportunity. Review your contact list or rolodex every 60 days and identify the people you will call over the next month. A great way to maintain connections is to leave voice mail messages just to “touch base.” End each message or conversation asking how you can help your contact. You will be surprised how often you can do something to help them achieve their goals! Nurture these relationships when you do not need them, so they are there for you when you do need them.
One of the best ways to establish contact with professional contacts is to drop them a note. For example, if you hear a speaker at a conference who is the expert in your field, drop this person a note (within 48 hours) telling him or her how much you learned from the presentation and telling him or her that you will call later in the week to seek advice about publishing an article in your industry publication. Writing a note to initiate professional relationships is much more effective than approaching a speaker at end of his or her presentation and hoping to be remembered along with the other 30 participants also waiting in line to shake the speakers hand. Writing notes is also a great way to re-connect with contacts. In this age of technology, handwritten notes, no matter how bad your handwriting is, are much more valued than typed notes.
Get in the habit of calling, meeting or writing to one contact a day. The Wisnik System is designed to provide you with a daily system for proactively managing your career in this way. By constantly establishing new professional relationships and nurturing existing ones you will be in the stream of information, opportunities, resources and information.
You may assume that only professionals at a certain level can help you with your career–this is not true. One example that stands out in my mind is of an attorney that we will refer to as Jane. When she was seeking a new job opportunity, one of the first people she called was the Federal Judge for whom she had clerked. He had been on the bench for over 25 years and knew hundreds of lawyers. Unfortunately, as much as he wanted to help, the Judge had no useful suggestions or contacts to recommend to Jane. The person who turned out to be the most helpful was the Judge’s assistant. She had worked with him for many years and kept in touch with all his clerks. The assistant gave Jane the names and numbers of former clerks who had started their own practices and others who were looking to hire for their firms. This assistant is a perfect example of a networking pearl! A networking pearl has a rolodex in his or her brain and is always willing to connect people to resources that can help them achieve their goals.
Always ask for permission before using or referring someone’s name. For example, call your contacts and ask if you may use his or her name when calling to work on a political campaign they are involved with. Courtesy will show that you are respectful and will encourage them to help you more. Be considerate and always ask “is this a good time for you to talk?” before launching into a conversation.
If anyone does anything that is of value to you, you must acknowledge that help immediately! You can either call or drop a note. We all like to feel appreciated. When we are recognized for our contributions, we are more likely to go out of our way again. As you become more attuned to how others are adding value to your life, you will find that you have at least 3 people a week to thank.
Copyright Wisnik Career Enterprises, Inc. You may reproduce this article for non-sale use with the company’s permission.