“Networking is a great investment in your future, and over the long-term, it always pays big dividends,” says Ford R. Myers, M.Ed., president of Career Potential, LLC. “Networking is a lot simpler and less scary than many people think. You do not need to be a great ‘schmoozer’ to network effectively. In fact, the best networkers are often great listeners, as opposed to great talkers.”
Networking is an effective way to advance your career goals or to ask for help and support from others, but many women don’t have the right approach to it. Yes, most of us have many friends and countless acquaintances, but what is more important is how to build a reliable network of people, maintain it and expand it. With these simple steps, you’ll not only be able to have a great network, but also learn how to benefit from it.
Cast a wide net
As adults, we tend to know between 500-700 people. Try to meet and connect with different people from all walks of life, at various stages in their careers, in different industries and different socio-economic statuses, explains Monique A. Dearth, president of Incite Strategies, a human resources consulting firm.
“Be interested in everyone you meet. The more interested you are in other, the more they will be interested in you,” says Louis Lautman, author of 31 Days to Awaken Your Creative Sales Genius.
Who should be in your network?
Every single person who knows your name should be on your contact list. (The only exception is people who clearly don’t like you!) It doesn’t matter what these contacts do for a living, where they live, how much power or money they have. The key is to not pre-judge people or make assumptions about who can and cannot help you, explains Myers.
When to network
The short answer is: All the time. But do it in a subtle way depending on the place and person and don’t focus on your needs only. “Remember that you recreate your network every day, everywhere you go,” says Jeanne Hurlbert, Ph.D., head of Optinetresources.com, a group that helps entrepreneurs build better social networks.
Of course, networking becomes crucial if you have a certain need. “If you’re in career transition, networking IS your job. The level of professional satisfaction you’ll have in your career and your next job is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of your structured networking,” says Myers.
Where to Network
Be selective about where you do networking. At social events, do so “softly.” Purely business networking meetings, especially those featuring multi-level marketing programs, are usually a waste of time because everyone is pitching and asking, few are giving, according to Dr. Loren Ekroth, founder of Better Conversation Week and interpersonal communication specialist.
Don’t just network for the sake of networking. You don’t have to land that job right there and then. Have some small goals in mind at networking events, says Diane K. Danielson, CEO of DowntownWomensClub.com, a national women’s networking organization and author of Table Talk: The Savvy Girl’s Alternative to Networking.
Don’t forget online networking
“Have a ‘clicks & mix’ approach,” says Danielson. Online networking does not replace in-person meetings. It is another tool that can help facilitate face-to-face relationships.
Hurlbert adds that online networks provide effective, efficient outlets for building contacts and ties that can help you advance your career, find a new job, garner sales leads or find new employees.
Networking by getting business cards is only half of the job. If you don’t follow up, the time you spent networking was a waste.
“The most important thing you can do after meeting someone is to follow up with them, because most people don’t and it shows you are interested in building the relationship and having them in your network,” says Lautman.
When to ask for help
Don’t pitch people when you first meet them. Hit-and-run connections rarely work. Choose a few of the best people you’ve met and meet them for lunch or coffee, one-to-one for further relating and support, explains Ekroth.
How to ask for help
Don’t be shy and don’t wait, just start talking. It is also a good idea not to ask for a job immediately, if this is your goal. Start by simply asking for advice or suggestions so people don’t feel pressured. But be specific and explain clearly what you are looking for.
And don’t forget good manners. “Not only does it make you look good, it also makes you more likeable as it puts others at ease,” says Danielson.
Evaluate your network
“It’s not what you know, or even whom you know, that is important. Rather, it’s how well you are known. A strong network gets your name out there,” says Dearth.
When to stop networking
Never! You should always try to expand your network, even if you don’t need help at the moment or you don’t think the person can help you.
“The secret to networking is keeping your networked greased when you don’t really need it. This approach is a lot easier than trying to get a rusty wheel moving when you most need it,” says Roberta Chinsky Matuson, principal of Northampton and HR expert for BostonWorks and former HR careers expert for Monster.com.
Don’t wait for a problem to happen, like losing your job, to start networking. Keep following up with your current connections so that when the time comes and you really need their help, it will be easy for them to do so. “It’s a smart career move to always be networking, no matter what’s going on for you professionally. If you don’t need help at this time, build-up your networking power by helping others,” says Myers.
What’s in it for them?
You might be wondering why would people want to help you, or how would it benefit them. In general, people will want to help you. It makes them feel important and good about themselves. It boosts their self-esteem to be considered a connector of people with opportunities and information, explains Myers.
“Giving and receiving help from people you know doesn’t weaken ties, that exchange strengthens them,” adds Hurlbert.
It’s give and take
“Don’t approach networking prepared to gain from it. Instead, focus on what you can give,” says Dearth.
Be a giver. Share leads, experiences, tips. Doing these things builds trust and friendship so that new acquaintances are more prone to help you, too. Superficial networking yields very little, explains Ekroth.
If you give some sort of valuable advice or help to everyone you know within your network, you know will benefit them and when the time comes they will want to reciprocate, says Lautman.
So don’t be reluctant, get out there to offer help and get the help you need!