You have no doubt heard of the “six degrees of separation” between you and anyone in the world. Well, as we’ve said elsewhere, there’s a lot of truth to it. The more skillful and pro-active you become at networking, the more you will realize that there are often only a couple of people separating you and whoever you need to get connected with in order to get an important interview.
This is one of the principles behind the methods used to expand your professional network. The problem is that “arm-chair-methods” (i.e., Social Media sites) can only get you so far. And, in fact, they can work against you. There are sites that will do you little or no good, and have the potential of “labeling” you incorrectly. MySpace is one example.
Develop a “LinkedIn Strategy” Before You Build Your Professional Network.
Sites like LinkedIn, on the other hand, if properly managed, can be extremely helpful and productive in building your professional network. You are well advised to carefully map out a strategy before jumping in however. (LinkedIn is so powerful, we’ll be devoting an entire section to it.) The main drawback to using these sites is the tendency to rely on them and recede into the comfort (and solace) of the home office . . . a deadly trap!
Face Time vs. Facebook . . .
Even a “professional” appearance on your Facebook account, as helpful as it may be in keeping up your professional network, pales in comparison to being seen and having physical presence on the scene of important events. Social media are only one tool, like the telephone, like email and personal correspondence, to open doors.
Having a physical presence – making in-person contact – is still the most effective form of expanding your professional network.
One obvious way to meet people in the industry you are in — or attempting to break into – is to join local chapters of appropriate professional associations as well as the national organizations (assuming your budget will allow it) and attend conventions. But, don’t “just show up.” Do your homework to get full value out of your time and financial investments.
Research Organizations and Meetings Before You Attend.
Know who the key players are. Study the background, writings and companies of people who give the presentations, sit on panels, etc. That way, when you introduce yourself to them, you will be in a position to make meaningful conversation and be more likely to develop a relationship with them. And don’t ignore the vendors. In many ways they are more important to you than people who already hold positions in companies you might like to work for.
Vendors And Industry Salespeople Can Be Key Contacts And Great Sources Of Referrals.
People in firms that sell products or services to your target companies know a lot about the industry. If they are “trusted resources” to their customers, they are often the first people who get asked about talent that may be available to fill a specific position.
If they like you and think you would be a good resource for them inside a company, you may just get an introduction or a referral. But, be careful of this relationship. You will need to maintain your professional posture and objectivity should you end up getting a job this way.
The Exhibit Area Is Often Where The Real Action Is.
A great place to expand your professional network of important people in an industry is at the exhibits of trade shows . Again, doing your homework ahead of time and knowing who you want to meet and what role they play in the industry is paramount to getting the most mileage out of your time and investment.
Getting invited to exhibitors’ receptions is an excellent way to meet people . . . but, don’t let the flow of alcohol and air of familiarity that might be present lull you into complacency. This could be a job interview in disguise!
Become An Author . . . Even If You Can’t Write!
Another way to expand your professional network is to write articles or white papers on selected important subjects in your field . . . and follow up on new contacts with a request for them to critique it. (If you don’t write well, find someone to ghost write for/with you.) You may be “submitting it” to a magazine for publication, the “eZine@rticles” website or your own website (another subject). Most people – especially if you’ve met them previously and established rapport – will be happy to help and that gives you an opening to request specific introductions, referrals, etc.
Use The Library And The Web To Do Your Pre-Meeting Homework.
How do you find out about the organizations, the trade shows, the events and other information you need to expand your network?
Well, the library is a good place to start, the web is another. Chambers of Commerce are usually helpful and calendars of meetings and mixers are becoming more complete and readily available on the web. Typing your queries into Google, MSN or Yahoo in different ways can yield a plethora of results.
Using directories in the library can be very basic, but yield very specific and valuable information. (More on this in the section on Trade and Professional Associations .) You can learn the specifics of a variety of organizations, their principals, membership and meeting dates, etc.
The important thing is to be systematic in your efforts to expand your professional network, keeping a clear set of priorities in front of you as there are likely to be more possibilities than you have time, money or energy to pursue.
Being Organized Is Not An Option. It’s A Required Discipline.
Keep in mind that, as a highly-paid executive, your time is valuable. Be discriminating in the way you dispense this “capital,” but keep in mind that networking is the most productive thing you can be doing while conducting your job search. Whether you use a book-based system or a computer-based contact management system (e.g.,Microsoft Outlook), maintaining a good calendar, notes and contact records is critical. Make sure you have this skill and use it religiously.