Network often & broadly

Networking is as important as people say it is. Cultivating professional contacts is critical to success. Below are tips on how to network effectively. Today’s online tools, especially LinkedIn, make it far easier to track contacts as they move around. Use online tools to facilitate real-life interaction. Reach out with a question in a message. Schedule a phone call with someone in another time zone. Meet that local person for lunch.

Develop networks above and below your rank. Find a few senior and junior colleagues with whom you connect well. Suggest lunch every quarter or so. Put it on the calendar. You may have to cancel much of the time because of schedule conflicts. But this sets up the relationship and over time these will be contacts you can go to, and vice versa, with questions about working life at that organization. You can try to organize group events, but they tend to fizzle out, as it is hard to align multiple schedules.

While you should always be actively tending to a network, try to do it through comfortable channels as part of your regular work or activities, rather than by creating dedicated networking events. It is more effective when people get to know you through experience rather than just chatting. If your workplace does not have adequate networking opportunities to meet others inside and outside the employer, find a side activity to engage in, such as a trade association breakfast series.

For women specifically, of course, develop relationships with other women, yet network with men as well. Women bring a relevant perspective that you should seek out, but by no means limit your focus by gender. As detailed in the sections on being a mentee of and friends with males at work, use basic precautions to avoid misperceptions when engaging closely with male colleagues. Meet in visible/public places that do not appear date-like, do not walk together to vehicles, and generally err on the safe side whenever in doubt.

When Unemployed

Networking when unemployed is hard. The job-seeker status can be obvious, and it is hard to motivate yourself to get out there when you feel needy. It is better to meet people by demonstrating your skills and personality, such as on a committee or volunteering role. Meeting just at a networking event does not give people much basis to recommend you, anyway. Which of these is most compelling?

“I met her at a networking event, she seemed nice.”
“She executed this project we did together really well and was fun to work with.”
“She handled the budget for our nonprofit last year-and we doubled our revenue!”

Clearly the last one. Find ways to roll up your sleeves and work with others whenever possible to show your value.

Tactical Tips

Networking will be part of all stages of a smart career. There are tips on making appropriate small talk under communications. Here are some behaviors to be mindful of when networking.

Do not be too formal or demanding. Instead of, “I want to network with you next week over lunch” try, “Could we connect? If there is a time and place that works I would love to learn more about what you do.”

Do not badger people about work matters at the wrong venue. Do not approach anyone with the hard sell at weddings and birthday parties. Time off with close family and friends should be enjoyable. Light conversation is fine, but if you stray into deeper material, stop. Suggest meeting another time to talk.

Present a consistent image. Do not hand out cards that promote your abilities in an area unrelated to what you are pursuing.

If you are going to connect others, clear it first with the people you are connecting. Or better yet, leave it up to them by forwarding on information and letting them decide whether to follow up. Do not just forward along people to others without asking whether they want to be contacted, even if they are good friends. Handing out their contact information could put them in an awkward position. There may be a more appropriate contact that she would prefer referring the person to. She may be really busy that week/month, or just may not want to engage. It is polite to ask first and let her decide.

Do not be obnoxious or pushy. If you ask to be recommended or connected to someone through a contact and the person does not follow up, do not badger them. There may be reasons, such as discomfort with reaching out to that person or organization, concerns about you, or just too busy.

Do not be snobby. If people offer to connect you with contacts who are not in the right focus area, find a way to reply respectfully. Instead of some version of, “No thanks, I am not interested,” try, “Thank you so much for thinking of me. I am swamped right now pushing hard on [state your focus area], but if that changes I will get back in touch. I really appreciate you being willing to connect me.”

Declining requests to connect others is fine. You should, when it makes sense. Be short and direct. Offer an alternative if you can. “I am not in a position to do that, but I am happy to chat if it helps.” “I am not the right person to introduce you, but I have another contact if you would like to talk with her instead.”

Social Networking

The social networking space is evolving rapidly and will continue to do so. Finding colleagues and staying in touch is easier than it has ever been. Reaching out, updating, and sharing opportunities is incredibly accessible. Respect others’ preferences and responses; some like to connect on Facebook, others prefer to keep professional contacts to Linked In or email.

Combining social network sites with real-life interaction is an excellent strategy. LinkedIn can help land a great job or opportunities even in indirect ways. One of our experts shared that she applied online to a position through the employer’s website, but did not have any inside contacts. She searched the organization in her LinkedIn network. A third-degree network connection came up who had just retired from the same division to which she had applied. They were connected through a person she did not know but was connected to because we were on a virtually based committee together at one point. This connecting person lived in Denmark, working for an unrelated company but in a similar position. The person she wanted to meet lived in her U.S. city. She messaged the man in Denmark to ask for an introduction, he sent it, and sent a note to the retired executive. They met for an hour at his country club. He shared background about the organizational dynamics-names, structure, how it all worked. He did not help her get the job in direct ways such as calling the organization, but he armed her with really good information going into the interview. She was able to understand and react more than otherwise would have been able to and she got the job. Do this for others, and tell them up front that is how  you can help if you see ways to make connections. Who knows where it may lead and help you as well.

Today, the entire job process can be handled via LinkedIn or other sites such as Taleo for some positions. Postings, applications, recruiter messaging, and more can be done through a single portal. We hope that the commonly required log-in employer career systems start to go away, or get aggregated. No job searcher wants to create multiple passwords, type in repeated information in frustrating forms over and over, or enter unnecessary personal data before knowing whether the job is a good fit.

Manage your online network

It is fine, and often necessary, to limit requested connections, groups, newsfeeds, and clutter. You should be in control, not the website or those seeking to contact you. You do not owe anyone an explanation. The same goes for requests to donate to a cause, join sites, download apps, accept games, or use certain services. Three easy words: No thank you. In today’s world of information overload, declining is part of life.

Activate network nodes strategically

A strategy note on networking: be careful which channels you activate. By reaching out to a particular network, two things might happen. First, the contacts might help you. Second, you may feel pressured to accept the help, regardless of whether the direction is where you want to go or not. Activating a network can start a domino effect. You do not want to burn bridges or make the contact look badly, so you do what they say and take the next steps. For example, if you want to become an investment banker, do not email tax accountant contacts. Emails lead to time spent on material preparation, meetings and more that you will not be allocating to actions furthering your goal. Consider first your preferred direction. Then choose which networks to alert. It is harder to manage too many networking efforts at one time anyway. It makes more sense to choose strategically rather than blasting out inquiries to everyone in your circles.