Beyond the Assembly Line: Networking

Networking means connecting with like-minded people, friends, and professional associates, and building relationships where you come to be known as an expert in your field. To me, this is a lifetime activity and not just something that you do when you’re out looking for work. You network between job hunting cycles so that jobs arrive on your doorstep. Think about it, when people run for President of the United States, they don’t just show up at the door the day before Election Day and say, “Hi! I’m a candidate.”

Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and others were campaigning for years in advance of their first election for President, so people knew who they were. Well, networking is going to be your continuous campaign, your lifetime endeavor to ensure that you’re able to stay in contact with people you’ve worked with, that others know about you and how to reach you when they have a need you can fulfill.

It may be counter to your habits at first, but you need to begin a database of the people that you’re connecting with. Even though you may not think at the moment that a given individual can help you in the future, it may be that, down the road, you’re going to need to access, to be able refer back to that person and connect with them again.

The manager that you worked with two years ago for whom you did a great job, who has now gone on to another organization, is an important person for you to stay in contact with because they know of your skills and abilities. They’ve seen the best of you. They’re an individual who can recommend you to others within their firm or other firms.

There are several resources available nowadays that make the networking process a lot easier. I mentioned Linkedin to you before. Linkedin is probably the most popular of the professional networking sites in the world today. There are also the normal networking groups out there that have existed for the last 20 or 30 years in particular sectors and fields. These are groups of people who get together regularly to share leads and to stay current with updates in certain business areas.

You can also network with people who are within your firm or who have left your firm. One of my favorite tips is, on the day someone else hands in their notice, make sure that you get their phone number and email address because this is someone you can reach out to and might be able to use as a reference or as an entry point in their new organization. You can also get testimonials from them before they leave.

Many of you might be more “analytical” or “introverted”; many just aren’t naturally social beings and it’s a bit of a stretch for you to pretend to be extraverted when you aren’t. So how does somebody who is a little more introverted and not as socially savvy break into networking?

Just realize that networking can be very simple. It doesn’t have to be a big thing to do. It can just be something as simple as a couple of times a week having lunch with different people in your department. If you work at a small firm and you have lunch with two other people once a month and those people happen to leave, they’re references for you; they’re entry points to other organizations for you. Multiply those two people by another 22 some odd that you might have lunch with over a year, and that’s a starting place for any natural introvert to get entry into other organizations.

There is also value in being recognized as an expert in your field. The attitude employers take is that you’ve accomplished great things, and have built a name for yourself in your industry (even if you don’t believe so). This is really one of the great approaches to take.  Getting yourself hired based upon the self-promotion of being an expert will help you not only get more or better jobs but will also allow you to make a heck of a lot more money than the person who isn’t recognized as an expert. After all, don’t we pay more because a product has been endorsed by someone?

You want to be perceived as an expert.

I remember some years ago a good friend of mine who is a very analytical type had decided it was time for him to move to another organization, but, as a natural introvert, he found it was uncomfortable for him to talk to people. Because he was quite accomplished in the areas of math and finance, I suggested he start to write articles based upon some of the research that he had been doing and get himself published. He pursued this avenue.

Well, one day the knock came on the door and a large bank called him up about taking over a department within their firm, and that, in turn, led to an opportunity with a management consulting firm for a partner’s position, and eventually to another opportunity as a leader within a banking firm overseas.

Now, suddenly, we’re talking about a guy who was making $85,000 a year catapulting his earnings to three-quarters of a million guaranteed plus bonus, all because he’d taken the time to promote himself as being an expert in his sector.

What we’re talking about here is an entrepreneurial approach to career-building, a kind of guerilla marketing. These days, it isn’t hard to get a simple article published in an industry journal. There are so many of them out there that it almost seems silly not to seek publication. They’re all on the lookout for articles. You can also publish articles on LinkedIn and share them with your connections and with groups.

You’ll be surprised how you can suddenly become visible as an expert within an organization, and how this increases your market value. Now you’re known as a go-to person in that sector, someone people can trust. This is a networking technique that might work for somebody who isn’t a natural extravert, who is unlikely to be at the golf course schmoozing on the links.

Nevertheless, I do encourage you natural introverts to work on getting comfortable with social situations. Attend a Toastmaster’s meeting regularly and put yourself in front of people. Take a few risks. Being introverted can cost you a lot of money in the open market. It can cost you a lot of opportunities and significantly limit the choices that are available to you.

It may interest you to know that I’m a natural introvert. And yet, because of my ambition, I’ve had to learn to adapt. When I started to go to networking meetings about three years ago, I hated the meetings at first, just hated them, because I was so uncomfortable. But I learned a valuable lesson, which is I didn’t have to talk about myself. All I had to learn to do was to start asking people about themselves. It is the best way to get a natural conversation going.

I decided to go into it with the attitude, “Hey, I’m just going to make friends here. I’m not going to try and sell myself, I’m not going to try and do business. I just want to make some connections and friends.” Sure enough, I realized that the real networking happened outside of the networking events: when we went out for a walk or we met for coffee. Now I have lifelong friends whom I met through networking events. They refer clients to me all the time. And I’d started out terrified of this whole networking idea, so I’m proof that it is doable, even for an introvert.

The big lesson in all of this—in networking and in your interview is—the more they talk, the more they like you. It goes right back to Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People. The number one lesson he teaches is, don’t talk; just listen. It works.

In addition to meeting new people, there are lots of different places where you can leverage both your previous and current associations. For example, there is an ex-employees of IBM Club. The value of being part of this sort of an exclusive group is the immediate camaraderie. You all already know one another, and by proxy, you have access to all the people your associates know.

The idea is: wouldn’t your interview go a lot easier if the interviewer knew you and understood that you possessed the kind of experience necessary to fill the position and excel? They can trust you that much more. There’s already shared wisdom that comes from having the same values and shared experiences. It’s like fellow soldiers who always respect one another because they’ve been in the trenches with one another.

Networking can be a lot of fun. Only at the beginning does it seem like work. Once you figure out that these are nice people whom you enjoy, suddenly, it’s not work anymore.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2020

 

ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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