Networking is a big mystery to most people. They feel awkward asking for help, and the idea of reaching out to someone has all the appeal of cold-calling to sell those handy slice-and-dice-it knives you see on late-night infomercials.
But that’s not networking — and it raises a bigger point. Networking poorly is worse than not networking at all.
A case in point: I was in the hospital for an outpatient procedure — nothing major, but the kind of thing that requires anesthesia and a little recovery time afterward. As I lay there in my attractive blue hospital gown with an IV in my arm, an anesthesiologist came in to see me. He smiled, checked my chart, and asked me what I did for a living.
The next thing I knew, the procedure was over, and I was in the recovery room. Even in my groggy state, it registered that the anesthesiologist was with me. This seemed unusual, and I wondered if something was wrong. “Everything okay?” I murmured.
Seeing I was awake, the anesthesiologist gave me a big, reassuring smile. Then he reached into his white coat and pulled out a two-page document: his resume.
“When you mentioned Korn Ferry,” he said, “I figured it couldn’t hurt.”
Really? I may have been a “captive audience,” but I wasn’t exactly in a frame of mind to network.
Such networking foibles show just how bad many people are at this. But you can’t go to the other extreme and avoid networking altogether.
Networking is vitally important for pursuing your next opportunity — whether inside or outside your current employer. But you can’t wait until you’ve lost your job or want a new one to start networking. It’s too late!
You need to build and nurture your network all along. The secret? Networking isn’t about you at all. It’s all about the other person. That’s why I say networking is a contact sport.
Here are the top 10 things you can do for your network (which you should be doing already):
10. Recommend a new restaurant — even a good book or a movie. This is something anyone can do and at any level. But don’t make it seem random. Let the person know why you thought of him or her as you make the recommendation.
9. Comment on or share social media. Has someone in your network written a post on LinkedIn or other social media? If so, you can leave a meaningful comment and share it more broadly. This one is especially helpful if you’re networking “up” with someone who is a few levels above you.
8. Congratulate someone. When you hear about someone’s accomplishment or life event — a new job, an engagement or marriage, a new house — send a quick note with your best wishes.
7. Always speak highly of people you respect and value. Never miss a chance to tell others about the value that someone brings. It may or may not get back to them, but recognition matters. It helps them — and good karma could help you, too (now or in the future).
6. Extend an invitation. Inviting others to a professional or cultural event is a great way to reconnect with people, such as former colleagues or others you haven’t seen in a while.
5. Volunteer for a charity or community event. Giving of yourself, even for a few hours, is an excellent way to nurture your network and meet new people in a different context. Plus, you’ll be doing a good deed.
4. Help someone’s family member. Maybe you’ve heard that the son or daughter of someone you know is thinking of applying to your alma mater. Or, their family member is looking to enter a field similar to yours. Offering to be a sounding board or provide perspective is a great way to give within your network.
3. Make a strategic introduction. People in your network probably have similar interests to one another. If you think two people would benefit from meeting each other, then arrange for that to happen. If you’re local, have coffee together or connect by email.
2. Offer your skills. There are people in your network who could benefit from your skill set. Offering your expertise or being a sounding board shows that you’re genuinely interested in helping others.
1. Always be on the lookout to help. This is the best way to build and nurture your network. Always be looking for opportunities to give to others, from brainstorming ideas to introducing them to someone when they’re looking for a job.
Call it paying it forward or a reward for a job well done. I call it the fruits of networking. When you need their help, the people you’ve helped in the past will be more than happy to step up.