Recently, I had a conversation with a longstanding client. Having just missed the latest downsizing in his Fortune 500 company, he reminded me of our discussion in 1997, when I cautioned him to be proactive. ""Don't wait until you need a network to start building one,"" I had said. Unlike many today, my client is so well connected that he is optimistic about the future and expanding his network weekly…just in case.
The corporate world has changed dramatically. To survive and thrive, you must become your best PR person. A respected colleague and marketing guru, George Torok, author of Secrets of Power Marketing, states that ""you must be seen. You must be heard. People must talk about you. And they must know where to find you."" So, let's start 2009 with a fresh approach.
As you create your 2009 resolutions, make networking a must. As I reiterate in my seminars, your network is your networth. Whether you are looking for a job or not, you must continuously network, promoting yourself and your expertise to management, peers and those in positions to champion you. This lays the groundwork for your next career move, and it distinguishes you from your competition.
The challenge for some people, however, is that they confuse networking with being insincere or fluffy. Sometimes this is just a cover for social insecurity, or bone-laziness. Ultimately, the purpose of networking is:
* To gather information about a particular industry, business or career position in which you are interested
* To broaden your professional network beyond the people you know to the people that they know
* To build relationships that bring you pleasure
YOUR SUCCESS WILL DEPEND ON YOUR INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
Do you project confidence when you meet someone? Have you perfected your small talk skills? Is your voicemail greeting upbeat and inviting? When you speak with others by phone, does your voice sound warm and engaging?
So far, so good? However, without an audience, this is wasted energy.
Start by making a list of everyone you need to know or know better internally and those within your industry. Trace old colleagues who could toot your horn to others.
BE CONSCIOUS OF THE OTHER PERSON'S TIME
How you approach your network contact depends upon how well you know the person. If you know them, come right out and say you are investigating professional opportunities in a particular industry. Tell the person that you'd appreciate the opportunity to get together over coffee for an information session and perhaps to seek advice. If the person suggests breakfast or lunch, all the better. But start small so you don't give the impression you are going to monopolize their time.
PREWORK FOR NETWORKING
In advance, find out something about the person's recent achievements such as a promotion or an important new client. If you can't speak specifically about the person, know something positive about the company he/she works for. Above all, treat the person as your guest. When you assume host behavior, you will naturally project greater confidence and warmth.
PERFECT YOUR ""30-SECOND COMMERCIAL
After a few minutes of small talk, start with your ""30-second commercial"" about yourself. Relate your area of expertise and what would make you valuable to another company. Be brief, direct and to the point. If you are uncomfortable talking about your strengths, try third-party testimonials from your customers, your colleagues or your boss. For example, ""My employer has said that I have made a valuable contribution in …."" or ""My staff tells me that they appreciate my ability to coach and develop them for higher positions.""
EXPAND YOUR LISTENING SKILLS
Let the person know that you are interested in seeking employment opportunities in their department, industry or career area. Listen carefully to what the other person has to say; that's where you'll gain business intelligence. When you are asked a question, answer it directly without launching into a monologue.
If it's been suggested that you get in touch with someone else, don't shy away from asking if you can use your contact's name. Or, ask your contact to give the other person a ""heads-up"" call on your behalf. Getting someone else to promote you gives you an edge. And don't be shy about asking for the names of several others you might contact to expand your search.
FOLLOW UP WITH A PERSONAL TOUCH
What you do after the meeting is vital: Send the person a handwritten note – invest in a good fountain pen and some buff-colored stationery -- a symbol of good taste. This is one time when an email won't do.
If in the course of your discussion you learn something about the person – she is an avid golfer or he collects art – be on the lookout for interesting articles to forward them occasionally. Or, if you read something related to their job or industry, send that along. This is an excellent way to refresh their memory about you.
MAKE NETWORKING A BIG PRIORITY
Once you have found your next position, your professional network doesn't go back into mothballs. The strength of your network is critical to your professional growth and future opportunity. Further, it will also make you valuable to others who are in career transition. You build a solid reputation when you go out of your way to champion others.
WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND
Remember, don't build a network that looks like you. Diversify! Step out of your comfort to connect with different types of people. Book time to make a difference to others. Give the gift of mentorship.
The old adage of ""what goes around comes around"" has never been more apparent than in this challenging economy.
About the Author:
Roz Usheroff founder of The Usherhoff Institute has gained an international reputation for helping others achieve results. She is skilled at executive coaching, management development, sales training, and individual consulting.