Networking is the gentle art of getting personal introductions to potential employers through people you know.
Employers favor it because hires from personal referrals are seen to be faster, cheaper and result in an employee who is productive more quickly and who stays with the company longer. It works for you, because these factors give any employer a favorable attitude towards your candidacy.
Unfortunately, most people haven’t developed a wide enough social and professional network to make this approach maximally effective. There are four networks you can pursue, which offer big time pay-offs for your strategic career moves. You become better connected to your profession and community, know more people, develop better skills, have expanded options, and will be far less likely to get caught accepting the first offer that comes along, simply so you can make that mortgage or rent payment. The four networks of involvement are
- Former co-workers
- Professional colleagues
- Community groups
When you really make the effort to get to know people at work, you immediately start building a network of contacts throughout your industry. Nowadays people stay at a job maybe three or four years, so co-workers are continually moving on to the very companies that one-day might well have an ideal job for you.
Even if you don’t know a departing co-worker well take the opportunity to collect contact information, and then make the effort to stay in touch. Maintaining friendly relations with co-workers and ex-colleagues will give your network a solid foundation over the years. A phone call once a year to say, “Hi how are things with you?” and a card at the holidays will net you an ever-widening circle of contacts. When you, in turn, move on, collect contact information from everyone with whom you have come in contact; with the advent of email, it is possible to keep up with large networks of personal contacts almost effortlessly.
As you enhance your career with the nurturing of contacts you make along your professional journey, you can also connect to larger relevant communities through membership in professional associations. The most successful professionals you will ever meet are
- Involved members of their school and university alumni associations
- Involved members of their military service associations
- Involved members of professional associations
With membership in professional associations (just go to your search engine, type the name of your profession, say “finance”, and the word “associations”) you can get to know the most successful, dedicated and connected fellow professionals in your area. You even get an introduction to members whom you have never met through the members’ directory that comes with your membership. Simply pick up the telephone and introduce yourself, “Hi Brenda Massie? This is Martin Yate, we haven’t spoken before but we are both members of the Association of Charted Accountants. Brenda, may I ask your advice about a professional matter?”
You can use similar introductions with just about any networking contact. With professional associations, members will likely have a good handle on what you do, with other groups that won’t always be the case, but people like you in other ways are still likely to have contacts somewhere in your profession. Even where you lack a personal relationship, the common bond that comes from school, university and military affiliations will guarantee your message an understanding audience.
With networking, you aren’t expecting a an interview or a job offer (although this will happen along the way), you are hoping for a lead in the right direction, just as you would when asking directions on the road from Carmarthen into the beautiful wilds of Wales.
So having made the introduction, you can sadly make two avoidable blunders. You can talk in endless circles around your objective, like a virgin on a first date, and when you do finally make a move it is to talk about your dream job. Together these faux pas make it difficult for even the most willing contact not to switch from wanting to help you to wanting to strangle you.
When common ground exists through an association, introduction or other social network, you can assume that your listener will be well disposed towards you; you can repay this goodwill by showing respect for their time and politely cutting to the chase. “Brenda, I am an accountant with Anderson the last four years, I work in the small business area and I’m looking to make a change….” Rather than rambling, in less than ten seconds you have courteously provided a focus, and it is here that you have to avoid the next gaffe by saying something like, “my ideal job would be…” or “the next step I’d like to take is….”
By describing an ideal job, or your next step up the professional ladder (a step usually taken once a proven commodity within a company) you make things more difficult for the listener who thinks, “this guy is looking for something very special, and any introductions I can make will probably be wasting his time.” It is more productive to talk in terms of what you do day-to-day, or even simply leaving it at your being an accountant looking for a new opportunity.
” … The reason for my call Brenda, is that I thought you might know someone working in the accounting/finance area?” If you are given a lead, always ask if you can use your contact’s name as an introduction. Follow up with other questions, “Can you think of anyone else?” “What companies do you know who might be looking?” ” Is there anyone there I could speak to?” The connectivity that comes with professional and neighborhood involvement, is not only excellent for your long-term career management, it is enriching for your personal life. You have heard it said of successful people that it is not so much what they know, as who they know, and the career enhancing benefits of professional connectivity prove this beyond any shadow of a doubt.
Join Martin every week to learn more about writing a killer resume, getting more job interviews and turning job interviews into job offers at his free weekly webcast, Mondays at noon central. Details: http://my.knockemdead.com