Networking, it's everywhere, but what does it really mean? It's more than just collecting business cards. Frankly, networking is a whole lotta work.
To me networking is developing long-lasting relationships with key individuals who can serve a purpose and benefit to you in your career or with your organization while doing the same for themselves, creating a mutual partnership.
Good networking, I mean really good networking takes time and effort. You have to get out there and attend community events outside of your group of regular friends. I recommend attending community events outside of your field or industry and get out there. And by getting out there, I mean engaging in conversation with a number of individuals. Asking them questions, introducing yourself, and exchanging business cards. Some networking events could include your local gardeners club, chamber events, young professional groups, women's league, or joining a board for a non-profit organization. I, myself am the member of several local human resource organizations, toastmasters, several local chambers of commerce, and volunteer for a local non-profit agency. In total, I roughly spend about 10-20 hours a month attending networking events, but networking doesn't just stop there.
Okay, so you have joined your local chamber, attended several meetings, and exchanged business cards with a handful of individuals of interest, now what?? I recommend following up with each person individually either by email, a personal note, or by phone within two weeks of your initial meeting. Invite them to lunch or a brunch you are hosting at your place of business, but make sure to follow up with them every couple of weeks or months depending on the situation.
Networking is a job within itself but over time it can pay big dividends. The key is to pick your partnerships and agencies that you want to align yourself with carefully. Always have your business card handy. Don't be afraid to be aggressive. Make the first effort and pass out your card. Ask the person questions and follow up. All in all, just get out there and expand your horizons!
One of the biggest mistakes I feel college students and other professionals make is limiting their networking to college and university clubs or clubs in their professional industry only. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to students or those who will be entering the job hunt is focusing on ways to differentiate themselves from other students or professionals who are their competition for open positions. A great way to do this is to join local professional organizations and get out there! In my opinion, these professional associations outside of the college and field of are very important if not more important than resume builders like summer internships. These networking connections can land the student unposted internships, other career opportunities, and relationships that can last for years to come!
Another great resource for networking is using social networking sites like linkedin, facebook, myspace, and friendster. When using these sites it's important to target your network and follow up with them timely. Don't just collect friends. Use those resources. Remember to be tasteful with your pages and comments. I have often used these sites not only for networking purposes but to follow up with candidates and evaluate their interests outside of work. As these online resources continue to increase in popularity, I believe they will become even more important in developing relationships. In some professional circles, Myspace and Facebook profiles are viewed as extensions of the resume. A recent candidate included their Myspace link on their resume. I was especially impressed when I viewed the candidate's page, very tasteful and professional but also fun-loving showcasing her interests and other talents outside of work.
Quick Networking Tips!!
-Get some professional business cards made with contact information including your web page and email. Include your online blog or myspace page link if you like.
-Research organizations and align yourself with those that will provide you the most exposure in the job search.
-Get out there. Make time. Try to attend 2 events a month.
-Be aggressive! Market yourself and make a great first impression.
-Get personal. Write a hand written not on the back of your business card to make a lasting impression.
-Think long term and don't forget to sell yourself.
-Give a firm handshake.
Next time. . . The Skinny on Headhunters