When I coach clients on networking, my strategy is to start with you references. They know your skills and work history best, which means they would probably be your best network contacts. Adam Grant offers a different take in a post on the blog “Big Think.” Following researchers from Stanford, Grant claims that our closest network contacts are often “redundant,” meaning they know the same things and people as we do. “Weak” contacts can offer different perspectives because they know different people and companies. Grant does not say we should ignore strong network contacts. Instead, he recommends leveraging all types of networks contacts, which is very good advice.
How can you make this advice a career management tool? Make a list of 20-50 people that you consider your network. Rank them from strongest to weakest in their ability to help you. Think about other possible “weak” contacts. Add them to your list and nurture your relationships. Finally, remember the most important rule of networking: Help other people as much as you want them to help you.
Holidays are a good time to catch up with friends. There are also a very good time to reconnect with your professional network. Start with the people who you list as references. Consider taking them to lunch or meeting them for coffee. Find out how they are doing, and let them know what has changed in your professional life.. If you are looking for work, ask them for advice about how you should move forward in your job search.
When you’re at any kind of professional party or holiday event, check in with people you know. Take the time to meet new people or to extend your relationship with people you only know in a superficial way. Grow your network whenever possible.
Too often people put career management and job searches in the closet during holidays. That’s a bad idea. If you’re interacting with people who can help your career, use the holiday spirit to make your relationships even stronger. Don’t take the holidays off.
This is a great question to ask when you’re networking as part of your job search. Think about people you’ve worked with, people who would be able to sell you a potential employer. We often start with the most powerful people we know: ex-bosses, business owners. The problem is that in most cases these people were not your biggest fans. Often they didn’t you or your work. Sometimes they’re the person who fired you or laid you off. Start with people who value what you can contribute and care about you.
Make a list of those people and call them. Keep your message simple: “I’m looking for a new job, and I was hoping you could give me some advice.” Try to set up a face to face meeting at a café or restaurant (whatever your budget can afford). Don’t bluntly ask anyone to help you find a job. If they offer, that’s great. If they suggest you look at a certain company, you can ask if they know anyone at that company. Don’t be too pushy, or you will push away someone who wants to help you.
Always follow up on any networking meeting with a thank you note. Offer to help in the future. Your goal is not just to find a new job, but also to build relationships that will help you throughout your career. Ideally, some of your network contacts will also become friends.
Start with the phone call. Who will take your call? That’s the first step.
Who can help? Why should they? Keep these two questions in mind whenever you think about networking. It’s not enough that someone has the ability to help you. They also need some kind of motivation to do so.
It’s easiest to think of professional contacts as your network. They know your work history and achievements, and they are most likely to have the kind of contacts that will open doors to a new job. However, personal contacts are equally important. These are people who often care about you more than your professional contacts. They will make the extra call or push harder to get someone to look at your resume.
Be sure that your personal and professional networks know your goals and how they can help you. If you are changing careers, it is especially important to help all of your contacts understand your new goals and why you will be successful in a new profession. Remember they have to sell you to someone they know. If you are trying to get a position in human resources, and they only know you as a teacher, they will likely be talking about you in terms that potential employers don’t want to hear. You need to help them understand how you will bring value to a human resources department as a former teacher.
Never let conversations with your network contacts focus solely on you. Ask about their lives and careers. Find out if there is any way you can help them. When networking becomes a one way street, your contacts will start to feel used. Eventually they will not return your calls or email. Give your network partners motivation to help you by showing how you are willing to help them.
Just as you would send a prospective employer a thank you letter after an interview, you should send a letter to your contacts – or give them a call – whenever they have given you a good lead. They will feel involved and invested in your success. Keep your network active, educated, and motivated about your career. Don’t forget to say thank you. And help your network partners whenever you can.