NO ONE EVER FOUND AN OPPORTUNITY WITHOUT TAPPING A NETWORK. It is true. I say this because gaining an opportunity means making a connection, with someone, somehow. After realizing that every job search requires networking, it is easier to get over the resistance to being strategic. After all, there is effective networking and ineffective networking – why not be effective?
Everyone Has the Social Collateral Required to Purchase an Excellent Network
A strategy built on providing value to your network will ensure that you have an active and productive network. Like a garden, the right inputs insure rich outputs; reap what you sew. Of course, it is easy to overlook your assets and to feel doubtful about your ability to contribute to a network. As a fiction writer, often I write from how I see the character – and that can be blinding. It helps to rewrite from how someone else might see the character. The same is true in networking. If you think of your needs, they may blind you to your own value. Consider how someone else might see you and what they might think you have to offer. For example, perhaps your goal is to launch a career; you’ve finished school. Your parents have careers, maybe, but not in the area of your interest. They may not be equipped to offer you much guidance. However, perhaps they could offer guidance to someone in your network and, in turn, that person may know someone who could help or mentor you. You get the idea.
Start early to build a broad network. Maintain it and feed it. A network is something you will rely on throughout your career, whether you are seeking a new job opportunity or looking for resources to help you advance in your current role. A network is an intangible asset that will drive your career, and, ultimately, your financial success.
If your family is not an asset, think about someone who could help – in loco parentis (in place of a parent); someone who might lend you their network.
Recently, one of my husband’s former high school students met with me to learn about LinkedIn. Her mother still lives in Somalia and is unable to assist her. This young woman is a determined young professional with dreams of giving all her energies to the world. As I showed her how LinkedIn really works (its more than you might think), we talked about her dreams and it occurred to me that two people in my network could be those, assist her. Their successes were in line with her dreams, and one of them also had immigrated to the United States. I used LinkedIn to connect her with my two contacts and now I am still waiting to hear how things are going (oops, she forgot to keep her network informed).
Create Your Network Using a Six-Step Process
- Step 1:Create a Mind Map Showing Potential Connections in Your Network
Mind42 (http://mind42.com/) offers simple, free Mind Mapping software useful for creating a map of your potential network contacts (it’s also useful for mapping targeted employers and lots of other things – I love Mind42.)
- Step 2: Go Crazy; Add All the Categories That Come to Mind.Don’t worry about what you will actually say to people in your network – you may not contact them initially. You want to include them in your contacts though because at some time they may be the perfect contact for you or someone in your network who needs help.
Note: My illustration shows Family, Neighbors, Community Groups, Church Community, College and High School categories, but you are not limited to just these categories.
- Step 3: After You Have Made an Exhaustive List of Categories, Gather Contact Names & Note How You Might Offer Your Assistance to Each Contact.For example, you might speak to the class of one of your teachers, or you might talk to a young family friend about their college potential. It is important to assess the value you offer your network. You will begin to feel confident that you are not begging for help because you have something to offer in return.
Not all your contacts will immediately seek the resources you have to offer. When you speak to them, it is nice to be able to offer, “I’d love to speak to your class sometime if you think that would be helpful.” And remember, just because they don’t offer you a useful connection immediately, don’t write them off. Keep them “warm,” to remind them of your quest; eventually, they may think of a way to offer their assistance.
- Step 4: As You Gather Contact Names, Consider How You Plan to Contact Each One in the Future. Almost everyone has a phone and email. Some people have Facebook. LinkedIn is good for professional contacts and you may find many of your contacts do have a LinkedIn account. If they do not have a LinkedIn account, do not expect them to join LinkedIn for your benefit. If you are a veteran seeking civilian employment, don’t fail to join RallyPoint. Your military contacts may not be able to help you now, but in a few years, once your buddies begin to advance their own careers, those relationship may offer your best and most loyal connections.
You may decide that some contacts know you well and because they are successful, may be able to provide advice about how to build your career. In a future article, I will provide instructions on how to develop a mentoring relationship. Another way to interact is to create a “board of directors” who you contact regularly to discuss obstacles to your success. As you create your list, flag your strongest resources.
- Step 5: Determine What Tools You Will Use to Maintain Relationships. Create a place to keep basic information for all your contacts. I suggest using a Google Gmail Account and its contacts feature. If you already have a Gmail account, you probably have many contacts and this is the beginning of your network. Start by creating Gmail Groups that align with your Network Map. Create one broad group that all your networking contacts will belong to, e.g. “Network.” Then create target groups so that you can find specific contacts by their sub-category, e.g. “High School” or “Family.” I like Google because it is in the cloud and can be accessed from whatever computer you are working on. However, an Excel spreadsheet is also an option. In a future article, I will provide a suggested template.
If you have contacts in your GMail account that you do not want to maintain as part of your network, delete them or create a group for the kinds of people you do not network with e.g. service professionals like plumbers, lawyers, doctors, hair stylist. Not that you couldn’t or wouldn’t network with your hair stylist, lawyer or plumber.
- Step 6: Update Each Contact With Basic Information That Will Support Your Interests:
- Last Name (for cataloging)
- Full Name
- Primary Contact Email
- City, State
- Industry, Job Title
- Primary Social Media URL
- What I might offer them
- What they might offer me
A network will grow over time. Your job is to manage your network so that it is well maintained and useful. Networks snowball—get bigger at a faster and faster rate. This was something I did not anticipate and plan for. These days as many as 50 people contact me every month because they want to network with me – a storm of contacts of no use to me unless I sort through them and tag each. I suggest that you design a sustainable system for keeping track of your network. Build it thoughtfully, slowly and with care. Twenty years from now, you will have only yourself to thank.
It’s Your Job to Herd Cats—Keep In Touch With Your Professional Network
Once it is initiated (you don’t have to wait until you have it completely constructed), you will want to begin using your network in the way you planned in Step 4 (above). However, once launched, you should consider that actively manage your relationships with your network. If you receive advice, you are obligated to report back on your progress, at least once as a way to show your appreciation. Don’t expect your network members to call you for follow-up. It’s your job to heard cats – keep in touch with your professional network. Establish a regular cadence for contacting each one (monthly, quarterly, annually, or at whatever interval makes sense), even if it is just to say hello or to ask how you might help them.
READ MY UPCOMING ARTICLES to learn more about networking as you launch and advancing your career.
Jeanne Ritterson, ECIR, is a full cycle recruiter employed by a Fortune 500 company. She specializes in technical recruiting and likes to understand what drives candidates so that she can assist them launch careers that match their career goals.