Last month I posted an article on Oy! that convinced you that Networking is essential to a young professional’s career. Hopefully, it left you hungry for more details on how exactly you go about building a network. Think of this article as Networking 201. (If you are not already open to the idea of networking, I suggest you go back and read last month’s installment before going forward.)
4 Steps to building your network:
1. Throw Out the Net and Capture Contacts.
If you love to work the crowd, try out some of the larger networking events all around Chicago. Just make smart use of your time. It’s better to spend time having a meaningful conversation with 4 or 5 people than trying to attempt to meet everyone. This way you walk away with 1 or 2 people you know you can follow up with after the event, instead of just 200 business cards.
If the big events intimidate you, it is completely fine to E-mail or call a few friends and family members to say “Hi, I’m looking to build my professional network and I was wondering if anyone knew anyone they can connect me too in the BLANK industry.” Big warning for job seekers, do not, I repeat DO NOT ask for jobs this way because that is not the purpose of this step. If you throw out anything in the message about needing a job or looking for a job, you will rarely be successful at building a network or getting a job.
Professional networking websites, such as LinkedIn.com have proven to be another great way to make new connections. Start by setting up your account and connecting to those you know. Once you are connected to someone you have access to view all of their connections. This allows you to potentially connect with many people to whom you previously did not know you had access.
2. Make the Net Work and Contact Your Contacts
E-mail or call your potential networking contacts. The goal is to set up a face-to-face, one-on-one meeting with your contact. This may seem strange or unusual, but people are more open to this than you think, if you ask the right way:
“Hi Jon, it was great to meet you at the Young Professionals event last Tuesday. I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and learn more about the work you do. Do you have a free 20 minutes this Tuesday or Wednesday to meet?”
“Hi Sharon, I am friends with Jill Meyers and she thought we should connect. I recently finished my Masters in Social Work at U of C and am looking to meet more professionals in the Social Services. I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and hear more about your Career Path at CJE Senior Life. I am hoping to be more informed about the industry as I interview for jobs. Do you have a free 20 minutes this Tuesday or Wednesday to meet?”
Notice how this approach offers the two things people love most— a free cup of coffee and a chance to talk about themselves. Also notice how it doesn’t mention anything about getting a job. That is a sure way to get a sure “No, thank you.” People can easily offer you time and advice, but jobs are not something people carry around in their back pockets in case someone wants to buy them coffee.
3. Make a Profit on the Catch With Informational Interviews
Once you get the appointment, prepare for an informational interview. Prepare like you might for a real interview. Research this person and where they work. Prepare questions about their work history. Show up early and dress to make an impression. Bring a copy of your resume, but only offer to share it if asked. Offer to buy the coffee.
As you start networking with more and more successful people you start to pick up on patterns. You start to figure out what you might need to do to also find success in your field. This could be success as a job seeker in landing a job in a certain field or success as a career professional in a certain industry.
After the time allotted for the meeting (usually around 20 or 30 minutes) always remember to ask two questions.
a. “How can I help you?” Your new networking contact will appreciate that you made this meeting about also helping him or her.
b. “Who do you know that I might also want to talk with to learn more about this?” If they can connect you to even one person that is all you need to keep the network growing.
4. Maintain Your Network
First and foremost, send a thank you note to this person within 24 hours of your meeting. It can be an e-mail, but many people will appreciate the personal touch of a handwritten card.
Periodically, you will want to reach out to your network. Some people feel strongly that this should be done with individual e-mails or phone calls. Others suggest that sending a mass e-mail update, bcc of course, is just fine. The important thing is to do something. Unless the person is going to be helping you out regularly as a partner or mentor once or twice a year is plenty. Just enough to let them know you are still out there and open to keeping them in your network.
Once you get your network going it is a good idea to have a place to go to create opportunities for new contacts. Joining an association, chamber of commerce or even a synagogue, are all great avenues for this. Many professional associations and Chicago chambers have young professional divisions. Synagogues are particularly great places for networking because of the large number of events and congregants they have. It doesn’t necessarily have to be related to your field. Maybe you like skiing, so you join an association for Chicago skiers. Volunteering for a cause that excites you is also a great way to do something you love and continue to meet new people.
We use networks for all sorts of reasons. The mistake a lot of people make is that they look for the immediate gratification. They think that one meeting will result in a job offer or a $100,000 business deal. If you are out for the quick gain, networking may disappoint you. Instead, you should realize that the point is to get face time with as many people as possible and leave a positive and lasting impression. That way the next time someone approaches someone in your network to ask “Who do you know that can do X, Y, or Z?” They can respond, “I happen to know someone that is perfect for that job.” That is when you know your network is working.
Looking for a networking event to attend? Join us at "Networking with Purpose: to Build Relationships, Influence Others and Grow Professionally" presented by Stacey Hanke. See yourself as others see you. Consciously and deliberately communicate in a way that influences others to take action, Network with a purpose and gain the courage to do so. Held at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, 30 S. Wells, Chicago, on February 24 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Free admission, networking and refreshments. Id required. RSVP by February 19 (312) 673-3437 or firstname.lastname@example.org .