career networking

Guest post by Kate Stull

Today, 80% of new jobs are secured through networking. The best jobs are usually unadvertised, and most high-level positions go not to people who send in their resume, but to people who heard about a role through a friend or a contact who was looking out for them.

Developing your network opens doors to new ideas, people, and careers. It can help you enter the find new opportunities in the workforce, since you have more than one set of eyes looking for job openings for you. And the more people in your network, the more people there are who know you, know your work ethic, and are there to recommend you for a job.

However, as the old saying goes, it’s about quality, not quantity. Of course, you have some kind of a relationship with every single person in your network. But how good are those relationships? The success of your network isn’t based on the number of people in it; it’s the quality of the connections within your network that really matter.

You see, having a strong network is about more than just helping to secure a job when you need one. Your network is made of the people who will be there to support you throughout your life and career. They’re the ones looking out for you when they hear about a great job for you, or make a valuable introduction you couldn’t have gotten otherwise. Your network is your “go-to” tribe; they are there for you whenever you need advice, guidance, or just someone to talk to about a new idea.

Consider the everyday relationships you maintain within your life –with your friends, family, colleagues, neighbors and peers. A positive relationship develops when you invest thought and purpose. The more effort you put into a relationship, the more you get out of it.  Likewise, your relationships with people in your network must develop past a shake of the hand and an exchange of business cards.  Exert the effort necessary to improve your network, and you will reap the benefits.

Think of your network like a garden. You nurture your garden by planting new connections, caring for existing relationships, and weeding out the connections that aren’t worth growing, to make way for newer and better connections.

Planting new connections

Networking can be daunting.  But remember that even your best friend was once a stranger, and you don’t know which of your future connections will bring new opportunities. Have you heard of the “6 Degrees of Separation” theory? This theory states that you are only six steps away from any other person in the world; when you think about that, suddenly the “friend of a friend” idea seems a lot more powerful.

Basically, everyone knows everyone. This means that leaving a good impression on everyone you meet, no matter how brief the introduction, is very important. Anyone you interact with could be the friend of a future coworker, customer, or boss. They may even come back into your life in the future as a coworker, customer, or boss themselves.

Connections can be made anywhere at anytime. Even when you’re just running to the store on a Sunday morning, you might run into a person who works at your dream company, or a potential client you’d like to work with. Your network doesn’t always grow when you’re ready for it. So how can you be prepared to seize the opportunity, no matter what?

An easy way to be prepared for chance encounters is to always have your business card on you. Tuck some in your purse, in your desk, in your pockets, so you always have something to help your new contact remember you.

After making a new connection, it is important to send a follow-up email soon after the introduction. This shows that you care about developing a relationship with this person.

Include 3 pieces of information in the email:

1. Where/when you met the person
2. That it was nice to have met them
3. A piece of information that will help to continue the dialogue (ask a question, pose an idea, ask to meet again).

This will help your acquaintance remember you, and hopefully begin the process of turning this person from a new contact into a person you can rely on within your network.

Caring for existing relationships

Many of us have people from our past whom we admire and respect, but whom we haven’t connected with in years. Our so-called “dormant ties”. Start to reconnect and rekindle these past relationships virtually, and in person, whenever you can. Re-connect through email, LinkedIn, or Facebook. Better yet, invite them out to coffee or lunch to show you really want to make the effort to strengthen your network.

A casual face-to-face meeting is a great way to improve a relationship. However, it is important to show that you value their time by being prepared. After all, you reached out to them, and they are doing you a favor.

To prepare, start by writing down what you know or can remember about the person. What do you find most fascinating about their work?  Preparing questions is a great way to show that you’ve done your research, so put together a short list of topics you sincerely want to know more about. And here’s a helpful tip: the more specific the question, the more interested you seem.  Asking open-ended questions encourages a dialogue, while yes or no questions cut the conversation short.

When at the meeting, remember the usual polite networking tips. Dress professionally, turn your phone to silent, and stay engaged in the conversation by nodding and asking follow-up questions.

If you’re nervous, just remember that people love talking about themselves and are usually very glad to share tips and lessons learned.  If there is ever a lull in the conversation, just ask the person one of your prepared questions. You can also try sharing a personal tidbit that could also serve as a jumping off point for future conversations.

At the end of the meeting, don’t forget to exchange business cards so that they can contact you if they think of anything else that might be useful later on.

Once you’ve met with someone, consider sending them a follow-up letter or email to thank them for their time and to let them know that you learned something from the meeting.  Again, this shows that you value their time, and that hopefully this isn’t just a one-time meeting. If you can share an article or blog that touches on something you two discussed, this is a great thing to add to your follow-up email to show you are still thinking about it.

Lastly, jot down some notes about your meeting so that next time you meet, you can build off of your existing relationship.  These notes will also help if you need to reach out again with some follow-up questions, or just to say hello and stay in touch.

Part of nurturing a relationship is showing that you remember the person and care about their life. People like to know that you are thinking about them. Remember to reach out to your network even when you don’t necessarily “need” something.

Networking doesn’t have to be a one-on-one encounter either – host a cookout for people you want to reconnect with, or go out for drinks with a small group of co-workers to encourage bonding on a personal and friendly level in a less stressful environment. The more you reach out, the stronger the connection.

Weeding out harmful connections

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Think about how much your peers influence you. When you’re with fun, upbeat, positive individuals, it’s difficult to think negatively, and vice versa. Surrounding yourself with peers who are like-minded with similar goals encourages you to work hard to achieve your own goals.  There is only so much time in the day, and if there is someone in your network that you feel is preventing you from growing as a person, then it’s time to weed out that connection.

The quality of your network really does matter. Fostering and growing your connections is vital to maintain a strong network. Remember, like all relationships, the more you invest in others, the more they will invest in you.

Simple Life Strategy: How Networking Can Help Your Career

A powerful tribe, the small world of people you choose to surround yourself with – is as strong as your investment in it.

Once a week:

1. Make a new connection. Get an introduction from a friend, or introduce yourself to someone at an event, and follow up to secure the connection.

2. Nurture an existing connection. You can set weekly reminders to make contact with friends and peers, which makes staying in regular touch a breeze (especially if you have a super busy schedule!). Send an email, make a phone call, set a coffee date, or invite someone out to lunch or happy hour at least once a week. Don’t wait for your phone to be the one ringing; be proactive!

3. Evaluate your network for bad connections. Is anyone in your network bringing negativity into your life? Like a garden, your network needs regular tending to notice problems as they arise. Don’t wait until you’re in too deep to deal with negative influences.

And always:

4. Think outwards. Yes, a powerful network is good for you. But you get that powerful network by always sending out more good stuff than you’re receiving. Be someone who makes connections and opportunities happen for other people. Think about how you can help someone else, and you’ll bring more positivity back to yourself.

About The Author: Kate Stull is a co-founder and content strategist at popforms, a startup building tools to help enlightened leaders and teams work better together. You can see more of her work on the popular popforms blog, and connect with her on Twitter at @katestull

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