October 2, 2013
Working your network, in person and online
Networking has become one of the main buzzwords in the business world in the past decade. It's all about leveraging your connections for mutual benefit, whether it's in person at networking events or branching out on social networks via LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Facebook, etc.
The burgeoning trend makes professionals in sales, real estate, insurance, recruiting and the service industry either smile or roll our eyes. Our bread and butter has ALWAYS been networking and building business relationships far and wide. Now that the world is more connected and the economy more global, learning how to network effectively is a vital skill, especially for job seekers or those new to the working world.
Even if you have a job, you need to pay attention to your network. I've noticed that professionals who have been with the same organization for a long time tend to let their professional networks lapse. They don't reach out to former colleagues or attend industry events. They don't participate in online discussions, such as on LinkedIn, in their alumni Facebook or Google+ groups, or in Yahoo groups or other forums.
Whether you are just starting to network or looking to rekindle a dormant one, start touching base with your primary connections. These are people you know fairly well, both professionally and personally. They could include family members, fellow volunteers, people from where you worship, co-workers (including former colleagues), neighbors and clients/partners.
Your extended network could include those with whom you interact less frequently, such as your hairdresser/barber, attorney, accountant, mechanic, real estate agent, even the bartender at your local pub. These are valuable contacts because they have public-facing jobs and know a wide variety of people. I recommend gathering a few cards from your service providers to share with others.
Networking events can be difficult, especially if you are shy or don't enjoy public speaking. Here are some suggestions to help ease the way.
• Go with a friend or acquaintance, but be sure to circulate independently.
• Vary your conversation. Don't just spout your business proposition or expound on your "elevator pitch"; insert some social information as well. Music, sports, travel and cultural events are all reasonable and relatable topics.
• Connect in advance. When an event is promoted online, see who has RSVP'd and try to connect with a few people online beforehand.
• Have a clear idea about your goal. Are you attending for business development? To meet recruiters/hiring managers? To find social influencers to help promote you on social media?
• Download the LinkedIn mobile app so you can connect immediately with your new contacts. Follow up within 48 hours.
Networking, especially in our connected world, is about creating community and finding people you can relate to who have similar interests. Build your professional network as thoughtfully as you build your social connections.
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.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
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."
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