During a recent “In the Strategy Room” podcast we discussed how to develop a network, utilize the benefits that come with a network, and continue expanding it. Networking is not just for those seeking new career opportunities. Once you master the skills of networking it can be very beneficial in both personal and professional settings. In fact, nearly everyone you come in contact with on a daily basis can become a potential candidate for your network. These include co-workers, friends, family, parents of your children’s friends, your child’s coaches, people you know from social clubs or religious affiliation, alumni from your past schools, etc.
Too often people are afraid to network due to their own fears of approaching friends for assistance, they are uncomfortable in public settings, they don’t want to bother others, etc. and they allow these insecurities to stop them from moving forward in building a successful network. Here are a few tips to help you build a network, use it to help you in your journey, and how it can help you:
1. Make a List. Take out a piece of paper and begin writing down everyone you know – and I mean everyone! If you have children, write down the names of their friends parents, their coaches, their school teachers and any adult that you interact with through your child. Think about groups, organizations, societies, and affiliations that you are connected with and the people that you’ve met or interact with each meeting. Remember that this is a living document and you’ll continue expanding it as you begin to utilize networking tools.
2. Think About Your Personal Brand. When we watch commercials on television or hear them on the radio, they are creating brand awareness to the consumer. Each of us need to be aware of our personal brand and the shadow that we cast from it. Is it something that others take interest in? A personal brand includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and all other social media. It promotes you to the public. Be sure what you are “selling” is the right perception and that it doesn’t include anything that may compromise the integrity of your personal brand.
3. Create Effective Networking Meetings. If your objective is to meet a member of your network to gain their support, it should be pre-planned, focused, and not take any longer than was agreed to. Before the meeting, take time to think about your purpose/passion and your personal brand. Be able to communicate effectively and in a quick setting by practicing in the mirror and with close friends or loved ones until it is perfected. Select a quiet location where you are less likely to be interrupted and arrive ahead of time. Think about what you want to say about yourself, your background, what you are seeking, but don’t ask for anything during the meeting. Allow the person to ask questions of you and be sure to remain aware of your non-verbal communication. Try to make the other person part of the conversation instead of it being one-sided. Let the person know how they might help. An example of this is “Please let me know if you hear of something that may fit in well with what we’ve discussed.”
4. Follow-Up. Be sure to follow-up with the person you met with as soon as you are able and thank them for their time. A general rule is within 24-30 hours of your meeting. If you were referred to this person, be sure to also reach out to the person who referred you and thank them as well. Continue to follow up with that individual and your network by providing updates on your career status, new certifications or awards, or other career changes that may have a bearing on how they can help you in the future. It’s a good idea to reach out to your network with a short note every few months.
5. Use Available Tools. Nowadays there are so many tools that can help you develop and grow a network. Social media is one of the best tools available and it doesn’t take long to set up a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or many other social media accounts. Take a look at your university alumni association or other organizations you belong to and if they have message boards, chat rooms, etc. then be sure to join in and participate. LinkedIn has become a professional tool for networking and nearly everyone is on it. Yet, most people are unaware of the advantages of this tool beyond just setting up a profile to help them build, expand and take advantage of their network. You will be surprised at how your network may grow by joining groups and then participating in topics that are shared on the group pages.
Although Twitter may be used by some for instantaneous expression of their thoughts, it is another powerful tool when used for the purpose of establishing connections that may turn into a strong network. Because it is part of your personal brand, be sure you are marketing yourself in a way that would attract others.
Once you get past your fears of networking, you’ll find the rewards are worth it.
Robert Gowin is a retired Army Master Sergeant that began his career as a Armor Crewmember before becoming a recruiter and career counselor. Robert’s experience in the private sector includes business and human resources consulting, project management, corporate operational strategy and integration, and most recently as Vice President of Pharmacy Operations, Analytics, and Compliance for Anthem, Inc.’s pharmacy solutions. He is the author of the book, Master the Transition, that provides advice to military on how to plan for a successful transition that is available at Lulu.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.