PhD, Communication/Relationship Coach, Etiquette Expert, Founder of the Academy of Social Competency.
Is there anyone who does not possess an awareness of networking or its role on the professional level? Probably not! Studies indicate that almost 80% of employees attribute career success to networking, and 70% of professionals were hired by companies where there was some type of connection. Given that networking contributes to preferential salary growth over time, it should also be considered as a future investment.
The message is clear: If you’re looking to move forward and accelerate career growth, “networking” is a must. Given the many benefits associated with networking, the overall numbers are surprising—25% of professionals actually network, while 41% would like to expand their contacts more but find there are time constraints. Developing a network is not an easy task, and is not just about token exposure at events or the distribution of business cards. The key to effective networking is the utilization of an integrative approach that leverages your network.
Consider these five relevant tactics on your networking journey:
The most essential rule of networking is to regularly grow your list of contacts. As venture capitalist and entrepreneur Rich Stromback brilliantly noted in a Harvard Business Review interview, “Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They are attached to people.” Therefore, look for everyday opportunities to find common ground and chat with everyone you meet—acquaintances and strangers, people from different social groups and with those whose interests differ from yours. You never know who knows who and who will open the next door. Remember, networking is based on three pillars—observing, listening and smiling.
With networking, each new contact is priceless, given that you never know what will manifest. Properly manage each new contact and make it a rule to write down information about people you meet and communicate with. Collect information about these people from conversations and social media, considering each new entry as a mini-dossier with the following information:
• First and last name
• Where and when you met this person
• Phone number
• Hobbies and interests
• Other personal details—children and parents’ names, favorite books and movies, special skills, etc.
All this information will support the development of long-term relationships.
Find and focus on your “connectors”—embracing everyone is difficult, especially for introverts who don’t crave communication. Therefore, learn to identify “connectors,” i.e., individuals who have a wide range of acquaintances. “Connectors” are extroverts who value communication and being surrounded by people. This is their chosen path, and they recognize who to call for advice, help or referrals. Your objective is to converge on such individuals, maintain good relationships with them and be helpful. This gives you access to their wide range of contacts, without spending time and energy on the maintenance of your own list. Think in terms of numbers: One “connector” has hundreds of people on their list. Knowing three to five “connectors” could deliver access to thousands of people.
For those who are not comfortable with person-to-person communication, networking via social media can be the best fit for a few reasons.
First, it’s a great addition to your offline contacts, and in some cases even an effective replacement.
Second, social media is a wonderful interaction tool, especially for introverts, who communicate at slower speeds. For example, receiving a text gives you an opportunity to formulate and edit a response, all before you hit the send button.
Third, the preliminary acquaintance with a person in social media is convenient and gives you an opportunity to create a portrait of this person through their photos, posts and comments.
Fourth, it’s free advertising that promotes and helps your brand flourish. Increasing quality contacts in social media reinforces and builds up your impression to others.
Fifth, social media is an opportunity to discover like-minded people and those who share your business interests.
If you find communicating difficult and essentially are unaware of the mechanisms associated with networking, start with small steps and practice. Attend small gatherings, say “Hi” to strangers, compliment people around you and wish them a good day. Even with these small exercises, you’ll notice that overall people are friendly and don’t mind chatting. Don’t fixate on being ignored, and realize that sometimes people are just tired or feel uncomfortable just like you. Your objective at this point is to flex your “networking” muscle—the more people you speak to, the more you will improve your communication skills.
In summary, the integrative approach is not about the concentration on just one of the five aforementioned tactics; it’s about the clever navigation of all of them. This will foster good habits that include commitment, time and effort. As André Maurois is often quoted, “If you create an act, you create a habit. If you create a habit, you create a character. If you create a character, you create a destiny.”