Networking is the process of developing strong relationships over time with people who can help you locate information, resources, and other people, to help you locate information, resources and other people. This is accomplished by sharing information, your expertise, your resources and your contacts. Networking is not asking for a job or asking for free services. Most people fail to network with tact and professionalism when they do not realize networking is the process of building familiarity and trust over an extended period of time.
The art of networking has even made it to primetime television. As I sat at home catching up on my TiVo recordings, I thought it would be interesting to incorporate a recent episode of ABC’s “Ugly Betty”. Characters Mark and Amanda provided Betty with tips on how to network at a social event to build her list of “important contacts” to establish her professional reputation in the magazine industry.
Mark and Amanda told Betty networking is gathering information to advance her career by using the following steps:
1. Forge a bond
2. Gather information
3. Perform an exit strategy
They added other information, but for the sake of keeping networking tactful and professional, I decided to omit their definitions and provide my own. When members of your network refer you, they are essentially putting their professional reputation on the line. Establishing yourself as a professional from the very beginning will ensure that your network connections do not hesitate to refer you to others. Let’s look at how to apply these steps in either networking setting.
- Introduction: Provide your name, where you work, and a mutual bond. This person may not be in your industry, but they may be in the same industry as your best friend or something else’s best friend in your network. This also allows you to learn and connect with someone outside of your normal environment.
- Exchange Information: Here is where your listening skills are challenged. Listen with the intent to provide information on how you can help this person. Once you establish a connection, you will be able to get what you need. Keep in mind networking is a two-way street that involves both giving and receiving.
- Thank You & Follow up: Thank the person for their time. Ask how you can reach them to follow up with them later. As in the previous step, you want to be able to provide them with information about what you uncovered while listening to them.
- Introduction: Provide your name, how you found out about them, and why you are contacting them. Often, I receive request to connect on LinkedIn with nothing attached, other than I want to add you to my professional network. I’m left wondering why they want to connect and how can I help them.
- Exchange Information: When networking online, it’s important not to ask for a job or free services. Let the person know why you are interested in them but make sure to include how you can assist them as well. Once I received a one page email that told me more information than I needed to know about a complete stranger. Remember, avoid providing personal details and be mindful of the recipient’s time. How would you feel if you received a one page email from a complete stranger who asked for something and offered nothing in return?
- Thank You & Follow up: After receiving information, always thank the person for their time. Be sure to follow up with that person as well. Often times I participate in informational interviews or provide resources and I’m left wondering if the person got the job they interviewed for or if my information was helpful. This allows you to continue building trust and familiarity, but more importantly, it allows you to reconnect with this person again as sharing must be done on a regular basis to build long term relationships.
Implementing the previous steps will ensure you are networking with tact and professionalism. Networking is the number one way to build your career. The last thing you want to do while building your network is to appear unprofessional or non-business like. Keep these three steps in mind as you build your network and enjoy the fruition as you watch your relationships blossom and grow.