Building a professional network isn’t very helpful if you don’t manage it.
Many career advice gurus recommend creating a “network” of professional contacts who can help you, especially during a job search. That’s only Networking 101. This often backfires because people feel you are using them because the only time you contact them is when you need something (“Hey Ron, I’m looking for a new opportunity in IT security. Can you pass my resume on to anyone you know who might have a need for someone with my skills?”)
As Steve explains in his Knew Money post, Building A Career Network’s Only Helpful If You Manage It.
Help Your Contacts
The key to making networking work is creating a list of professional contacts you can also help. This allows you stay on their radar for a good reason.
For example, I manage my network by sending links to helpful articles to my contacts when I come across content, data, reports or other information I think might help or interest them. This keeps me in front of them and on their radar as a fellow expert, or at least a fellow professional with a similar interest.
When I read articles my contacts post on LinkedIn, I try to comment and add one more piece of information to show that I thought my contact’s information was valuable and that I also shared an interest. I recently contacted a friend who had written an article and sent him a link to an article I had written years before that contained statistics from German tennis researchers that supported what he was saying in his article. We hadn’t talked in years, and he responded, thanking me and telling me what he and his wife were up to. I’m sure he checked out my LinkedIn profile and he’s now up to date on what I’ve been doing in my career and where I’m at now.
Yes, sending a birthday greeting to your LinkedIn contacts when you’re notified is a nice, extra touch in networking, but it’s way too superficial to count as networking.
One of the best ways to build your network and add important people is to volunteer, both inside and outside of your industry. This can include working at events, serving on organization committees or sitting on a board of directors (which is easier than you think). You’ll not only meet more people, but also be able to add your volunteerism to your CV, which is something far-thinking companies value in employees.
Meet Face to Face
A local tennis coach became a national figure by attending virtually every major tennis conference, seminar and workshop, being “seen” by industry leaders several times each year. People began to wonder who this woman was and why a local tennis coach would attend all of these meetings. In many cases, she’d simply fy in for the day to walk the show floor, say hello to key people, be “seen,” then leave. Being at all of these events enhanced her reputation in the industry and she eventually landed on the cover of one of the teaching pro magazines.
Make an effort to attend your industry’s charity events, cocktail parties, lunch-and-learns, trade shows, conferences, etc. An executive at one of your company’s competitors might see you at several industry events, think you’re a higher-level player at your company and be more willing to give you an interview when he has a job opening.
One way to let your peers know you’re attending a major event is to contact them individually and ask, “Hey Lisa, are you going to be at NETCon this year? I’ll be there Thursday and Friday and would love to say hello if you’re attending.” Even if you’re almost sure Lisa isn’t going to NETCon, you’ve told her that you are attending one of your industry’s major conferences. This shows Lisa how serious you are about your job, or how valuable you are to your company.
Even if you aren’t impressed with your local networking events, the more you are “seen” by your peers, the more you’ll seem like a player. You don’t have to stay for an entire event — show up, walk the room, shake hands and chat with the few key people you want to see, then leave.
For more tips, check out Steve’s GovLoop article, 7 Steps to Get Good at Networking.