December 1, 2011
Rank and file: Manage your networking connections
While I don't have an exact statistic in hand, I think it's safe to say that the "average" business professional likely meets at least a few hundred people each year, in passing. And for those folks who work in the sales, marketing or recruiting fields, I'd reckon the number is well north of that.
How many of these encounters, however, actually lead to ongoing relationships? How many of the casual acquaintances you meet do you manage to convert into a viable, valuable part of your professional network?
Recently, in speaking to a local industry group, I focused on this idea and tried to emphasize the importance of "managing your social capital" as an ingredient of modern career success. I pointed out that the majority of job leads and business deals today derive from personal relationships, despite (or perhaps due to) the dizzying rise of technology.
As a consequence, I encouraged them to start being systematic about their relationship-building efforts, versus just winging the process, as so many people still seem wont to do. I stressed that the usage of even a basic CRM tool or tracking system (e.g., an Excel spreadsheet) would work wonders in terms of improving their networking success.
The comment I made that rose the most eyebrows in the room, however, was when I mentioned that in my own networking system, I rank each person by two scores: influence and chemistry. As I meet various people around town, in other words, I make a note in my database (using a 1-5 scale) that indicates how well I felt I "clicked" with the person from a personal standpoint, as well as how connected the person appears to be in the local community.
On the surface, I realize this approach sounds highly Machiavellian. And I could sense that some members of the audience were uncomfortable with it. But is this approach really all that different than what each of us tends to do, every day, in the real world? As we bump into hundreds of people each year, don't we already decide, consciously or unconsciously, which relationships we wish to cultivate and which ones we're not all that interested in strengthening further?
In my opinion, the time has come for true success-minded professionals to stop taking their relationships for granted. It's time to start managing them, strategically, with the same level of seriousness with which we manage our financial capital. Personal connections, after all, are the currency the job market revolves around, and we meet far too many people to become bosom buddies with everybody.
The smart money is on individuals who focus on intentionally building strong ties with the right people -- those whose company they really enjoy, those who they feel could best enhance their career prospects, or, ideally, both!
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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