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Networking – Applying Your Network to Career Development

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In my first blog “Career Development – Advice to Yourself”, one of the top ten items people wished they could go back and tell themselves was to do more Networking. We’ve had a few blog posts that have touched on networking and today I wanted to give you some more ideas on how to build, cultivate and leverage your network and apply it to your Career Development.

When I first started out, I never had a plan when it came to Networking. I went to some events when I had time, walked in and found people I knew, monopolized their time and then left. Slowly, I started seeing my friends get more interesting jobs, get access to people I had never met, and get invited to places I didn’t even know existed. As I started asking them how it happened, they told me that they had met a contact at the same place I had been and had leveraged that relationship. Wow, I was missing out! I realized that just showing up wasn’t going to get me to where I wanted to go. I am fortunate in that I find it easy to talk to others – I was just talking to the wrong people about the wrong things. I needed a plan. How was I going to get my next big project unstuck? How was I going to find the next great opportunity for myself? How was I going to help my employees find new opportunities for growth and development? I needed a different, bigger, more diversified network. After some trial and error, research and studying networking books, I distilled my process into the following steps.
Step 1: Analyze Your Network.

Categorize your relationships to give yourself a clearer idea of whether your network is extending your abilities or keeping you stuck. Some suggested categories are those contacts that provide you with:

  • Information

  • Political support and Influence

  • Personal Development

  • Personal support and Energy

  • A sense of purpose or worth, and

  • Work/Life balance

It is important to have people who provide each kind of benefit in your network. Are you heavy in one category? Are you missing one? Upon analyzing your network, you’ll see where you have holes and redundancies and which people you depend on too much—or not enough.

Step 2: Practice the Four R’s to a Better Network.

Review - Review the people in your network. Write down what you receive when you interface with them.

Reduce - Step away from energy-draining or redundant contacts.

Renew - Look for new folks to add and make sure they have the right attributes: look for folks with new views, those that give you energy and challenge you.

Realize - Ensure you are using your contacts as best you can – re-kindle or maintain contact with those folks you have put on your revised list.
Step 3: Take “Realize” to the Next Level and Plan for your Next F2F Networking Event.

Who do you want to meet? Determine some “targets” based on your analysis of your Network and who you need to add to your Network. It’s okay if you don’t know names, write down job roles or position titles and discuss with your Manager and Mentor(s) to find the name of the person.

Do some research on the people/types of people you want to add. What can you give them in return for adding them to your network? Can you give them information (an article or book), or a connection (someone they should meet), or your time (can you do research or a project for them?)

Prepare some questions and notes for the Networking Event. Go for something deeper than “Tell me about yourself”. Ask them for their opinion on one of the presentations or show you’re well read on their company and ask them about something specific about policies or work that relates to a project you’re working on.

Dress appropriately – wear something distinctive that folks will remember – “I was the woman with the red scarf” or “I was the man with the bright blue tie”. You don’t want to be person with the torn jeans, or the see-thru top. That’s not the way to be remembered!

Check your smile! I was recently at an event presenting a poster. I had a women come up and talk to me about Intel and employment opportunities. The whole time she was talking, I was focused on the spinach from the mini-quiches that was lodged between her teeth. Needless to say, I don’t remember what she said or wasn’t focused on what I could do for her or what she could do for me.

Bring some business cards to pass along to those folks you really want to reconnect with after the event. Even if you aren’t working, a card is helpful – I write notes on the back of the ones I collect so I remember the person and why I might want to connect with them again. Be careful not to be a crazy person passing them out. Use them judiciously. I had one person show me the stack they had acquired from an event. I asked how they were going to follow up and make connections. How would they make the notes personal? They had no idea.

A small notepad and pen will also be helpful for keeping track of promises or questions that need answers.

After the event, sit down and close out any action items you took during the event. Write out more detailed notes of what you learned about each person – I track these in Outlook in the Contact Notes box. How many kids, ages, interests, etc. may be helpful information in the future. Set up coffee for a conversation you want to continue. Send out links, books or information you promised you’d send. Connect people via e-mail or phone. Thank you notes to those that provided you with contacts or help are appreciated. Connect via LinkedIn with the most promising leads from the event. Make the LinkedIn notes personal.
My advice now – be deliberate when it comes to building your network. It will pay off at some point in the future! Don’t waste the opportunity to connect and network.