Every topic worth covering needs its very own “top rules” article devoted to the subject. The all-important, and often career-boosting, subject of networking certainly makes this list. To help start your new year of career searching off right, here are 11 rules of effective networking that should guide your efforts.
The last time we checked, ending up on the front page or your local newspaper was typically reserved for run-ins with the law or notorious op-ed pieces. Unlike these career-negative types of coverage, effective networking will often involve crafting a headline narrative to help get your story across effectively. When catching up with friends and colleagues, consider the message you want to present and would like to be shared far and wide.
Need a little inspiration? Headline-worthy tags include statements such as: “Joe out of work — again.” “Marcia retooling herself.” “Jan in carpet-cleaning business.” “Paul offering new investment vehicles.” “Frank has a new job.” The point is that compartmentalized nuggets of information travel quickly and are best-suited for helping you attract the right kind of attention. Consider what you’d like your networking message to be and stick to the topic when reaching out to potential contacts.
Focus on the Long Game
The last thing you want is to find yourself out of work or in need of a quick career move only to discover your contact list has gone stale. Effective networking isn’t an as-needed type of tool. Your contact and call lists should be up to date and primed to be put into action should the opportunity arise.
To this end, maintain your professional networking game even when you may not have an immediate need. Be sure to attend regular industry functions and peruse those connections on the regular. Even if you’re not on the market, invite colleagues out for a quick lunch or coffee break “just to catch up.” You never know when these types of assets will become invaluable in bailing you out of a dire situation.
Don’t Discount Online Networking
Sure, you’re quirky uncle Nick may think that online interactions are only useful for selfie-obsessed millennials, but savvy career go-getters know better. Modern professional networking platforms are a “must” for those looking to make and maintain connections within their industry.
If you’re late to the party or have been hiding under a void-of-tech rock for the last decade, sign up for the most common platforms to start. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are all viable options for making connections with similarly minded professionals. If you’re considering a Google+ account, we hate to tell you but you’re a few years late to the party [insert link to news story] to make a mark in that realm. Remember to keep your interactions professional and separate any personal activities, or relegate those to the non-permanent (kinda) places such as Snapchat.
Anyone who’s ever been through their high school years knows the importance of being part of the in-crowd. Much can be said for various professional and industry-focused groups as you reach your adult years. Many professions or subsectors maintain one or more networking groups focused on your specific niche. Not only can you make new networking connections, but you’ll also learn valuable new skills via first-hand advice and experience.
We’re not just talking physical groups either. As we mentioned earlier, the advent and daily use of online platforms by all levels of professionals have been a large step forward when it comes to networking with your peers. Specialty groups on professional and social media networking sites allow for specialized interests to come together and share ideas. Pay attention to those online groups that have a physical counterpart for “IRL” interactions. As a bonus, watch out for opportunities to contribute advice in comments and articles as this is a great way to get your name out there and build your professional reputation.
Keep Your Work and Private Lives Separate
We touched on this briefly above but the topic is important enough to deserve a paragraph of its very own. As the old saying goes, you’re better off not mixing work with pleasure. If you’ll be grabbing dinner and drinks with a colleague, avoid all night, hangover-inducing benders, or letting the topic stray to anything uncouth. Keep those pictures of yourself in boxers or a bikini off of LinkedIn and avoid the common pitfalls of religion and politics any place where a non-likeminded colleague might run across them.
Research Your Networking Circles
While we’re on the topic of joining groups to help grow your career, it’s important that you take some time to do a little research on the particular party you plan on crashing. For starters, it will help you better understand the priorities of the club, network, or organization you’ll be interacting with so that you can better contribute. In addition, doing some due diligence ahead of time is a great way of avoiding running with the wrong crowd or a group that you may not want to associate with based on your ideals and goals.
Instead of just relying on blindly passing out business cards at an event or function, researching ahead of time will let you ask relevant and thoughtful questions. You’ll also have a better gauge of the mood of the room and may even be able to identify potential career-building targets ahead of time. It’s all about networking smarter, not harder, after all.
Some of the most overlooked areas of networking success are often hiding in plain sight. Some are even disguised as causes that are already near and dear to your heart. That’s right. We’re talking about volunteer opportunities in your work or community.
Volunteering is a multi-faceted activity that feels good and does good for those on the receiving end as well as for your personal reputation or career. Genuine relationships are often formed when people are working together for a common cause. Try to identify areas that are meaningful to you personally or that may touch upon your specific career in order to maximize your time and impact. If you’re an architect, for example, consider one of the numerous homebuilding charities. In short, focus on volunteer activities that touch on your career so that you’ll be a better contributor and can help make connections in the process of doing good.
Remember to Give, Not Just Receive
We all have that one person in our social circle that is more than happy to let you pick up the dinner and drinks check but rarely, if ever, offers to snatch it up on their own. While it’s easy to simply suggest splitting a bill down the middle, it’s often harder to find a balance when it comes to the benefits of networking.
Whether you’re looking to maximize your networking efforts or are seeking a mentor to guide your career path, remember that there is always someone sitting a few rungs lower than you on the professional ladder. Keep your eye out for those in need of professional advice in their own careers and karma, and appearances will often benefit in your own efforts and successes.
Broaden Your Social Circle
Often times when people seek to network they focus on the tried and true contacts in their small personal and professional group. Limiting yourself to people you already know, however, is a surefire way to limit your networking circle and opportunities.
Be sure to work the networking grapevine by asking trusted contacts to put you in touch with other like-minded professionals. Be open to accepting invitations to new events and don’t hesitate to reach out and ask 2nd and 3rd-degree contacts if they’d like to connect. Chances are if you stick to the path more traveled and known, you’ll miss out on hidden gems of opportunity.
Be Aware of Your Image
We’re at that point in the list where we’re going to ask you to do something uncomfortable. First, take a good hard look at yourself in the physical and metaphorical mirror. What do you see? We’re not asking for a social critique or your haircut or outfit, or for you to identify flaws. The truth of the matter is, however, that it’s difficult to network if you don’t have a solid understanding of how other people perceive both your experience, appearance and career level.
People respond to your image, both internally and externally. Not understanding what that image portrays means that you’re going in blind to most networking activities. Take a careful assessment of who and what you are and then use those qualities to help you both make changes and promote those characteristics where you are the strongest. It’s often said that people have ten seconds to make a great first impression. It only follows that efficient networkers know how to make those ten seconds count.
Show Grace Under Pressure
Remember that strength is often portrayed best by those who are cool, calm and collected. If you find yourself in need of networking for a new job or career path, it’s best to maintain your composure.
Instead of rushing around and handing out cards like you’re dropping restaurant flyers, target your audience for networking in a methodical fashion. Avoid blast emails with numerous addresses on the “to” line and opt instead for personalized communication with individual contacts. Choose your events wisely and try not to come off as, well, desperate. Practice this and you’ll be a much more appealing candidate and effective networker.
So there you have it. Our list of 11 of the top networking tips to make your efforts more productive and efficient. Have another tip, or two, or three, that you’ve used in your networking adventures? Drop us a line in the comments and share how you’ve achieved your own career success via this all-important tool.