Making the most of your network can be challenging. It’s a new year. A new decade. Why not take this opportunity to get serious about strengthening your connections. Think about doing things differently this year so that you can have different results. Here are some thoughts and tips for 2010…
1. Think about how many people you know. Then consider that each of them knows just as many people as you do. Somewhere in this vast network of people you know and people they know is someone who can help you get a job. Take that network seriously. A strong network doesn’t happen by accident.
2. Make sure your business cards are fresh and up to date. Do you have a new title? Do you have a new career path? Has your email or phone changed? Your business card should reflect the latest information on you. You’ve seen people who use old cards and cross out old information and write in new? Don’t be one of those people. It looks cheesy. Get new cards made. They aren’t expensive. I know what you are thinking…I’m a croupier, a gym teacher, a car detailer, a songwriter, a librarian…I don’t have a business card. So? Get one anyway. You’ll stand out!
3. When you meet someone new, and it’s appropriate, exchange contact information with them. Consider how you might help this person. That’s right – how you might help them. Too many times we look at other people as resources for our use and not the other way around. Trust me. If you can help out somebody else, even in a small way, they’ll want to help you back.
4. Find an organized way to manage your contacts. Some people keep a Rolodex. Others store information on their PDA or phone or Outlook. Figure out which way you collect and store information most efficiently and create a consistent process for doing it. Each time you meet someone new, be sure to input their contact information as soon as you can, while you mind is still fresh. Follow up with a note. (Hey Joe. We met the other day at our sons’ baseball game. It was a real nail biter, wasn’t it? Enjoyed talking to you about our shared love of European beers. I was also interested to hear that you have done business with Carlton and Phipps, a competitor of mine. I would really like to continue that conversation sometime – I’d even spring for a German Pilsner or two. In the meantime, I wanted to make sure I had your contact information right. I’ve included it below. Once again, good to meet you. R. O. ) Make sure that your contact information is in the signature. By writing a note, you confirm your information and implicitly invite a reply. You also know they have your contact information handy as well.
5. Even if you are happily, gainfully employed, don’t let your contacts get stale and dusty. This could be a huge task if you have a lot of contacts, so don’t think you have to do them all at once. Make a point, monthly, to take a portion of your contacts and send them each a brief note. It doesn’t have to be personalized throughout, but you should mention that you want to make sure that you have their latest contact information and ask them to put them on your list of people to inform if anything changes. Create a note you can send to everybody and just personalize the P.S. line. (e.g., P.S. I was visiting Los Angeles last week and remembered that crazy business lunch we had. Are you sure the paparazzi weren’t there to see you?) If, for some reason, you do need help in a job search, you don’t want to be the long-lost pal who hasn’t been in contact for 6 years and now needs a favor.
6. Online networking tools like LinkedIn have been created for the purpose of connecting with business contacts and staying connected over time. Use them! Keep your profile fresh and up-to-date. Include your recent endeavors as well as your accomplishments. Folks will be interested in knowing what you are working on, even if you don’t have a “big win” attached.
7. What if you aren’t “good at networking” or you aren’t a “people person?” Well, that’s a cop out. Everybody who knows anybody is a “people person” – you just might be picky about the kind of people you get close to. Do some soul searching to figure out the kind of people you connect with. They might be people who share the same hobby as you or folks who share your values at your church. Decide what arena feels comfortable for you and network there. Make an effort to meet new people.
8. Have a good long think about all of the possible avenues of contacts you might have. Family members. Colleagues. Friends. Alumnae. People from the gym. From church. Fellow team members. PTA. Professionals you employ (your lawyer, your dentist, your hair dresser, your accountant, etc.). When you think about it, you probably know HUNDREDS of people. If any one of them told you they were looking for a job, you’d be very interested and want to be helpful to them, right? You’d put some brain power into thinking about whether you knew of a business that might be interested in employing them, wouldn’t you? So don’t be shy about approaching them yourself. Keep this in mind – if you are gainfully, happily employed, you will be in a better, stronger position to help others reach their goals.
9. If you are a shy person, here’s a trick for parties, business meetings or other social gatherings. Most shy people are observant and good at noticing the people in the room who are popular and seem to know everybody. Make it your goal to meet one of those people. Approach them, smile, and say “Hi, I’m John Smith.” Pull out your business card and hand it to them if it helps you break the ice. That person probably has good people skills and will be happy to meet you. They’ll make it easy. After you have established contact, tell them that you are trying to meet new people and ask if there is anyone else in the room you should meet. You’ll be surprised how helpful they will be in connecting you with others. Be sure to get their card and drop them a note afterwards.
10. If you are unemployed, you can become a little isolated. It can seem like there aren’t a lot of ways to get out and meet people in your field. Nonsense. You just need to get creative and do some research to find outlets. Go to trade shows. Attend lectures by professionals in your field. Go to community events, like Chamber of Commerce meetings. Join a professional organization associated with your field. Look for a Meetup group in your area (check out www.meetup.com for more information). If you have a skill or some area of expertise, figure out where you can volunteer to use it to get some visibility. Are you a barber? Volunteer to give haircuts one Saturday at the local retirement community. Are you a CPA? Volunteer to stop by the library and give a lecture about new tax rules. You’ll get new contacts and maybe even some new clients. Make sure when you do these things you get some photos. You can use this later to promote yourself to an employer.
Some final word on contacts. They are very important, these folks who will help you get your next job, the best job of your life. Treat them with care. Nurture them. Respect them. Cultivate these relationships. Spend some time considering how you can help these folks meet their goals. If they are successful, they may one day have the power to help you. In turn, share your good fortune with them. What goes around, comes around. It’s true. This is a great attitude to bring into the new decade, one which will likely be filled with serious challenges and, hopefully, great opportunity. Happy New Year!