I recently entered the keyword "networking" into Google. In 0.13 seconds, it returned 21,600,000 entries. Amazing! What's even more amazing was when I entered the same search ten minutes later 200,000 additional entries were found. Countless articles and information are available about this subject. By reviewing the latest information, many of you are taking the first step towards learning more about networking tools and techniques.
Remember the old saying, "It's not what you know, but who you know." Not only does this hold true today, but there continues to be a growing emphasis on the importance of people connections. Business, job and people networking have become the norm, not the exception. Baby Boomers and Generation X professionals use networking in almost every aspect of their daily lives in order to gain greater success in today's competitive business environment.
Networking is a powerful tool that offers the promise of impacting our lives by opening endless people, company and information channels. It helps us establish new business contacts, locate and land challenging career positions and interact with people who have common interests and goals. As a young adult seeking my first job, it took a while to understand the very simple premise that people know people. Twenty-some years later, I realize the potential for using this new found tool for seeking advice, information, recommendations, referrals and support.
Not long ago, mention the word networking and most people either didn't understand what you meant, or those with a technical background thought of a computer network. Today, most people understand the term in a general sense, however do they really understand the process, benefits and dynamics that link people together?
Don't assume everyone understands what you mean by networking. Lillian Bjorseth, author of "Breakthrough Networking: Building Relationships That Last," said most people fail at networking because they don't really understand what it is. "Networking is not a personal platform for you to tell people how wonderful you are," said Bjorseth. "It's a dynamic process that links people into mutually beneficial relationships." A key success factor for effective communication is establishing a common understanding of terms, goals and expectations. Once established, you are better positioned to target specific goals and objectives. Many job seekers know from experience that the average person assumes you are seeking only contacts that have job openings. Based on this assumption, it's easy for them to simply say, 'I don't know anyone who is hiring right now.' By educating new acquaintances first, you will not only avoid this problem, but open their minds to exploring a much broader group of resources.
Without getting into the "dos & don'ts"…a list of important things to keep in mind:
Explain networking in simple terms including your goals and how it benefits all parties.
Assure contacts that you understand they are busy and value their time.
Provide an option to meet or have a phone conversation.
Explain that your focus is to develop a two-way exchange of information that is mutually valuable:
Ask about their job, company and latest challenges, hobbies, what they excel at and listen for ways that you can help them.
Find ways to give back to your contacts through interesting and informative articles, referrals that might assist their business, scheduled events or even social or hobby information.
Be a courteous communicator, and always express your appreciation for assistance.
Good relationships take time to develop; they don't happen overnight.
Building a diverse network with an eye toward the future, including different business sectors, job responsibilities, cultures and geographic locations will provide a more comprehensive group of resources. Allow yourself time to establish relationships based upon trust, common values, interests and goals. Use your contacts effectively and recognize that each one is different and each group must be approached uniquely.
Types of Contacts Your contacts will typically fit into three groups: (1) people you know, or warm contacts, (2) those referred to you by a business or personal contact or referral and (3) people you do not know, cold contacts. Warm contacts should not be taken for granted. Ongoing exchanges of information with warm contacts may be easy for you, but ask yourself if you are achieving your goals. Your closest friends, business associates and co-workers may provide ongoing support, advice and information, but may not necessarily be your strongest or best resources. Referrals can be introduced in person, by phone call or via e-mail. Remember that someone thought enough of you to provide a referral, so treat both individuals with professionalism and respect. Find a common thread when working with cold contacts to help you open the door or perk their interest. Use something you know about their company, a person they know, an association they belong to or an article you read that might apply to them. Don't under estimate the potential of anyone. You will be pleasantly surprised, if you make the effort to establish a relationship. Don't become so wrapped up in developing your own network, that you overlook the benefit of providing referrals to your contacts.
Persistence Accepting rejection and maintaining a positive and persistent approach are key to your success. Not everyone will have the time, energy or desire to talk with you. Set a time table for yourself that includes follow up calls and e-mails. If you fail to receive a response by the end of your defined period, move on and concentrate on those people who are receptive to talking or meeting. Cultivating and developing good working relationships takes time, patience and the right touch of persistence. Each person has unique values, which, when combined with your overall group, form a strong alliance.
Research is a very important part of developing your network. Gaining information about companies, people, products and trends all require research. Google, http://www.google.com/ is one of many excellent tools for fulfilling your research requirements. Many times you will find limited company information, but you will be able to identify names of the management team or decision makers. By entering a very simple search using Google, you can locate every occurrence of specific companies and potentially a broad range of information valuable to your research. First, identify the company website, example: Sears Roebuck & Company is http://www.sears.com/. Enter the following search "@sears.com" into the Google search field. The information returned from this search will provide company information, articles, personal e-mail addresses of employees and many other sources of valuable information. One of the most valuable pieces of information you may find are employee e-mail addresses. Using the e-mail format, you can now e-mail decision makers and people who might be able to assist you within specific companies.
The influence of people who know people increases our ability to lend assistance to friends and colleagues, leverage the expansive community of resources available and help us become more successful. Every individual has their own style of working, socializing and getting through their daily life tasks. Develop a networking style that recognizes your individual strengths, weaknesses and purpose.
About the Author: Russ Kovar is a Managing Consultant at Delta Initiative, LLC.Delta Initiative is a consulting company in Palatine, Illinois who provides business agility through the practical use of technology, with a specialty practice in higher education. He is actively involved in numerous networking groups and activities and can be contacted at email@example.com.