Networking has gotten a bad reputation in some circles because too many people think networking is about only getting a job. Which makes one feel a bit squeamish about the whole thing: “If I’m out of work, I feel like I’m more ‘begging’ than ‘networking.’
But networking, when done well, really is about establishing relationships. Relationships that can help you make good decisions.
For example, let’s say you move to a new area and you’re looking for a good mechanic. Would you Google “mechanic” in a search engine (possibly), but wouldn’t you first ask co-workers and neighbors to recommend someone to you? Probably!
So when you think of networking, think of it as growing your list of personal connections, connections that can help you move forward in your career or profession.
Consider joining national professional groups in which you have a true and genuine interest. This way you can remain in the organization no matter where you work and no matter where you live. Aim to go to at least one of the organization’s meetings or activities a month.
In addition, routinely ask your friends, neighbors, colleagues, family members, and others if they know of anyone that they think you should speak or meet with. Anyone. He or she doesn’t necessarily have to be in a position to hire you, or work at a company at which you want to work. They just need to have something in common with you. This will help keep networking fun. Aim to meet with at least one new person a month.
Most people really want to help others. So don’t be shy about contacting someone to ask for advice. We love to give advice! As you get ready to approach someone, think about what you can offer him or her in return. Listen to the person carefully so that you can get ideas as to what he or she may need that you can provide. It may be as simple as the name of a good mechanic…or arranging for her daughter (who’s interested in veterinary medicine) to speak to you your sister-in-law, who is a veterinarian. Remember, the more you give, the more you get..
As for contacting someone, e-mail is usually better than a phone call today. Of course, if you’re at a networking event, a face-to-face approach works wonders.
If you end up meeting for coffee or lunch, be sure to pay for the meal or beverage. This helps put you on an even, professional footing with your contact. This is especially helpful if you are unemployed; it diminishes considerably the “poor, little begging me” factor. Be sure to write a thank-you note immediately after. If you’ve been able to call someone else your contact mentioned, or otherwise took a step on a recommendation your contact made, be sure to mention so in your thank you note and give the results. Say you’ll keep your contact apprised of your progress.
Then…be sure to do so: keep the contact informed as to your progress. Touch base every now and then to let her know of any career moves you’re making. If you hear that she has made a move herself, that’s also a great time to send a little congratulatory note. Once you have made real progress, in a few months, offer to get together again so that each of you may catch up on each other’s status.