Networking is nothing but building relationships while progressing through our career. Networking is an art. We should be mindful of how to network effectively to build a good web of relationships that is mutually beneficial for ourselves as well as those in our network. I have identified five steps in effective networking. We will look at more networking tips in upcoming posts.
Step 1. Brainstorm Contacts
Brainstorming contacts for your network can depend on your stage in life. Recent college graduates may approach networking differently than a mid-level career professional or seasoned professional.
Step 2. Identify Why You Want to Meet That Person
After identifying all the people we want to network with, it may be a good idea to prioritize our meetings based on contact's availiabiltiy or their influence in our career. While we may want to meet all the interesting and important people, everyone has limited time. Some key people may be very busy and have little free time. We must consider how to approach different people in a professionally and culturally appropriate way.
Step 3. Create Your Approach and Practice Approaching Contacts
When meeting people face to face, consider the environment and setting. If it is a networking event, networking for career is natural. However, if we happen to casually bump into someone when they are shopping in a mall or out at a restaurant or bar enjoying company of their friends or family, I'd suggest a different, more casual conversational approach that doesn't focus on job hunts or career needs. Asking our network contacts for a job right off the bat, this sounds like 'I am worried about me, what can you do for me?' It's not a very collaborative way to start any relationship. If you will be going for a networking event or to a professional meet where you may have a chance to meet influential or key people in your career field you want to network with, it may be benefitial to consider what you may say in advance, and even practice mock meetings with your friends or family.
When speaking of virtual introductions, some of the same suggestions may apply. Avoid sending cut-pasted template emails that say the same thing to everyone. Avoid using the generic LinkedIn contact request text. Write something unique for each person, so they feel as if you are taking time especially for them. Also, never, never, never send a contact request saying, "I want a job." or blindly sending your resume as an email attachment. If you do that, be ready to be ignored.
Step 4. Schedule Meetings and Stay in Touch
While it is tempting to network only when required- such as when applying for a new job, a career change or other times of career crisis, avoid doing this. You will be stressed out, and this will come across to your contact. It's better to try to keep in touch with your closest colleagues on a regular basis, just to check in and see how things are doing. Offer help to them when required. No one likes to feel used. If we contact others only when we need something, people may feel used. This is a feeling that no one likes. To avoid this, keep in touch in good times and offer help whenever possible to make it a mutually beneficial relationship.
Step 5. Stay Organized
I would say this step is the natural extension of the previous step. While it's not always possible to forecast how a relationship would unfold with a person, we can think about how staying in touch with particular people could help us professionally or personally. To add to this, while there is contradicting advice out there about connecting to those outside our career field, my personal experience has shown that it can be helpful at times to network with people outside our career field because sometimes there can be an overlap of interest or maybe they know about resources or positions that we may not. They could at times, also help us see things from different perspectives or offer opportunities that we may miss from those in our network pigeon-holed into a very specialized career path.
What tips do you have for networking? What has worked for you? What do you advise others to avoid while networking? How does networking vary cross-cultures? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Author, Jennifer Kumar provides sessions to Indians and other expats and international students in the US on networking, working in the US, small talk and interview skills.
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