I remember sitting in my first co-op class at Drexel and the instructor was talking about job search and networking. At the time, I had no idea what “going out and networking” really meant or how I was supposed to become proficient at it.
Networking does not need to be the intimidating task that I imagined at 19. At the time, I didn't realize what a strong network I had already developed for someone my age. Let’s demystify networking and take a look at how easy it can be for you to develop a strong network of allies who can help you be successful and reach your goals.
You may be asking “What is a network?” In its simplest form, it is a broad list of people you have met through your life. They can be contacts through business and personal endeavors. Let’s start with an easy exercise that will help you visualize your current network. Remember, networking is about who you know. Grab a piece of paper and a pen and begin to write down a list of all the people you can think of. Some names that belong on this list are right there in front of you at home, work and school – family and friends, bosses and colleagues, professions and fellow students.
Anytime you are making connections or acquaintances with people based upon shared experiences or interests, you are networking. You are networking when you:
- attend meetings for professional or trade associations
- talk to your neighbors, family and friends
- start a conversation with someone in the elevator or at the department store
- post comments on a blog or online social network
Now that you know “who” is in your network, you need to make it work for you. You can tap into your network for a variety of reasons such as getting a new job or promotion, making a career transition, cultivating client relationships or new getting information or advice on an industry or company. The idea is to grow the relationship from your initial meeting and develop it into a result. Anyone you meet can positively impact your future.
Seek to expand your network by tapping into other’s networks. Think six degrees of separation. Always ask your contacts for referrals to help grow your network and give you access to people you might not have met otherwise.
Here are a few quick and easy ways to make this happen but it is going to require some time and energy on your part.
- Set goals for yourself. Commit to attend two events a month or to add 5 new contacts every week.
- Get organized. Use a networking tool such as LinkedIn or create a spreadsheet to stay on top of your professional network. Enter key information such as name, company, title, email, phone number, how you met them and when you communicated last.
- Be self aware. Know what your personal objective is when you start networking. There is nothing worse than making a bad first impression. This plays directly into the next suggestion…
- Practice your elevator pitch so that when you do meet someone new, you can succinctly tell them who you are, what you do, and why you are interested in speaking with them.
- Follow up. Send hand written thank you notes to those that help you. It is important to follow up with regular phone calls, emails and /or holiday wishes.
- Give what you get. Although you have an agenda for your networking, be sure to give back and help others. Open your network up and help others when they ask. Introduce them to people you know and they will help you in return.
Now that you have learned how easy it is to visualize your network and you have some tips on how to cultivate it, go out into the world and start a conversation with someone new. Share your interests and goals and help others along the way. You will see the rewards of your efforts in no time.