Start with what you know
“You can do a significant amount of valuable networking without ever making a cold call,” says Lynne Sarikas, director of Northeastern University’s MBA Career Center. “Start with a known instead of an unknown to demystify the process. This helps a shy person over the hurdle.” After a few successful conversations, you’ll feel more confident.
Once you acquire a smidge of courage, expand to people who graduated from your alma mater. Your alumni network is a gold mine of connections. That’s why it exists. Contacting an alum out of the blue shouldn’t feel like a cold call. After all, they joined this network to make — and take — calls just like this.
How to Network Effectively
Making connections and maintaining relationships with the people who support you throughout your career can be the key to success for most individuals. By effectively building a network of colleagues, business associates and more, you are ensuring that whenever you need a new client, a new job, or to develop your skills further, you can call upon your network to help you.
Networking is perhaps more crucial than ever, as an established relationship can make you stand out against the competition. For anyone who has ever worked as an intern at a large organization, one of the best pieces of advice you’ll receive is to network, network, and network more while you’re there. Take advantage of the access you’ve been given, go out of your way to meet other intelligent individuals and build up a network of contacts so that when you leave (or if they do first), there is a foundation for a relationship in place.
This guide will teach you about the different categories within your network of contacts, how best to utilize some of the newest features on LinkedIn and lastly why face-to-face networking also known as in-person offline networking is still the best.
How to Network Effectively: Networking Categories
Back when snail mail was the main form of business communication, it could take days to establish a connection with someone from another company. With the advent of the telephone, professionals gained the ability to just pick up the phone and call someone to make that contact. Today, technology has in many ways made even telephones unimportant. With only a person’s name, you can Google them, look at their LinkedIn profile, their Facebook information and if they tweet then their Twitter stream. The availability of information on people has drastically improved, but it doesn’t detract from the importance of old-fashioned offline networking. If you ask ten different people to define networking, you’ll get ten different answers. But according to The Oxford Dictionary, a network is “a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes.”
“The real definition of networking to me is building relationships before you need them,” says Diane Darling, an expert on the topic and the founder and CEO of Effective Networking, Inc. based in Boston. “It’s difficult because we tend to only do things in life when we need to. But if you’re running a marathon, you don’t wait until the morning of the race and then just go out to run. On that day of the race, you remember all of the time and hard work you put in ahead of time while training to get to that point. With networking, when you really need a job or new clients, empowering your existing contacts is the key to getting you there.”
When considering your contacts, Darling recommends that you think of them as five different subgroups within your network, try not to interconnect and view it like an inverted pyramid.
2. Network: Your friends and family network, alumni network (example: University of Florida alumni), or business network, these are specific sub-groups but people you trust. They should rarely go over 200 contacts, and to determine if someone is in your network, consider if they would immediately return your phone call. If they get back to you, then they are in.
3. Inner Circle: Ideally about 50 people who can rotate annually and give you candid career feedback about your career. Darling likes to put together a survey at Surveymonkey.com every two years so these people can give her honest thoughts without fear of offending her.
4. Personal Board of Advisers (PBA): 5-6 individuals you are particularly close with and who should be your go-to network for advice that not only touches on your career, but on you. How are you doing as a person?
While networking has always been vital to business relationships and growing a client base, it’s never been quite as easy as it is now. While face-to-face-interaction remains the best form of networking, you no longer need to rely on snail mail or even phone calls to interact and create a group. With social networking sites, you can research and connect with other professionals easier than ever. And the leader is LinkedIn, a seven-year-old business-oriented social networking site. As Darling notes, it’s called hybrid networking, so taking the online to the offline (digital relationships to face-to-face meetings).
Launched in May 2003, LinkedIn has seen its biggest growth the last few years. It has gone from 30 million members and 200 employees in early 2008 to over 75 million worldwide members and over 600 employees, according to company spokesperson Krista Canfield. Additionally, a new member signs up for LinkedIn every second of every day, and the users span 200 countries worldwide.
Find a Higher Purpose
Another factor that affects people’s interest in and effectiveness at networking is the primary purpose they have in mind when they do it. In the law firm we studied, we found that attorneys who focused on the collective benefits of making connections (“support my firm” and “help my clients”) rather than on personal ones (“support or help my career”) felt more authentic and less dirty while networking, were more likely to network, and had more billable hours as a result.
How Leaders Create and Use Networks
Any work activity becomes more attractive when it’s linked to a higher goal. So frame your networking in those terms. We’ve seen this approach help female executives overcome their discomfort about pursuing relationships with journalists and publicists. When we remind them that women’s voices are underrepresented in business and that the media attention that would result from their building stronger networks might help counter gender bias, their deep-seated reluctance often subsides.
Andrea Stairs, managing director of eBay Canada, had just such a change in perspective. “I had to get over the feeling that it would be self-centered and unseemly to put myself out there in the media,” she told us. “I realized that my visibility is actually good for my company and for the image of women in the business world in general. Seeing my media presence as a way to support my colleagues and other professional women freed me to take action and embrace connections I didn’t formerly cultivate.”
Many if not most of us are ambivalent about networking. We know that it’s critical to our professional success, yet we find it taxing and often distasteful. These strategies can help you overcome your aversion. By shifting to a promotion mindset, identifying and exploring shared interests, expanding your view of what you have to offer, and motivating yourself with a higher purpose, you’ll become more excited about and effective at building relationships that bear fruit for everyone.