Networking — Anyone Can Play This Necessary Game

Networking. It’s the buzz word that we’ve all heard whenever we’re talking about selling either ourselves in a job search, or a product as part of our work. The concept isn’t new, but it has taken on a life of its own, and covers lots of topics, which we’ll delve into in this article (or chapter if it’s a book).  First, we’ll have to define exactly what we mean by “networking,” and then we’ll talk about the first steps – including your talent, values, and acquired skills. Next comes another new buzz word: branding. We’ll tell you how to create your own unique brand, and how to get it “out there.” The necessary tools needed as part of your branding process include your business card and your “one pager.” And finally, we will delineate just who is and is not included in your network, and how to best utilize it to achieve your goal – whatever that may be.

Before we embark on our “networking journey,” it is important to emphasize that companies do not think in terms of hiring people, they are looking for solutions to problems.  Therefore, the corporate world now spins on relations and solutions to tactical problems, in other words, revenue and productivity. Therefore, you will need to change your mindset from a full time job search to looking for either part time or short term project work.

As the old sales adage goes: ABC – always be closing – you will now need to make your top priority seeking opportunities – every time, all the time.  As such, keep in mind that all employers  are always looking for people with certain time-honored core skills, including leadership, information and organization management, problem-solving, and data analysis, coupled with integrated reasoning skills.

Source: The New Professionalism – Allison Fine HBR 5/9/12

It’s a new world out there. Consequently, what was considered profession in the old days, no longer fits the current definition of how things are viewed and implemented.  In a nutshell, here’s a comparison of what the old vs. new professionalism looks like:

Old Professionalism:

  1. I am closed to the world
  2. I can’t make mistakes in public
  3. I don’t reveal my personal interests to the world
  4. I am expected to have the answers to questions
  5. Power is taken and held

 

New Professionalism

  1. I am open and accessible top the world, strengthening my relationships with people
  2. I am human, when I inevitably make mistakes, I apologize quickly and sincerely
  3. My interests, hobbies, passions make me interesting and attractive
  4. I am searching for answers with my network of colleagues and supporters
  5. Power is shared and grown

 

So just what is the proper definition of networking? Webster’s defines the word “networking,” as: The act of process of informally sharing information and support. Author of “Breakthrough Networking,” Lillian Bjorseth, notes: Networking is an active, dynamic process that links people into mutually beneficial relationships.

Whichever definition applies, it is important to define what it actually is and is not, in terms of its implementation, as opposed to quibbling about the nuances of its definition. Here’s what you DO when you network:

  • Share Information
  • Help People
  • Keep at it 24/7
  • Offer a Solution
  • Flex Your Talent

By comparison, here’s what you DO NOT do when you network:

  • Sell yourself or anything else for that matter (no Pyramid schemes, please!)
  • Look for a job
  • Manipulate People
  • Keep Score
  • Look weak or needy
  • Conduct Transactions

And now we begin our “networking journey.” As the old saying goes: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” With that concept in mind – networking is that thousand mile journey, and here is the first step:

Step One: Look inward at your core values. Ask yourself what do you prize? Why? Because the answer to this question is the basis upon which you will make all your decisions, and relates to how you will follow through on those decisions. In sum, the answer will tell you what you stand for. This is a very important, fundamental first step that many people overlook, and that gets them in trouble later on, down the road. In short, values congruence is a critical element of any “chemistry fit” in networking and interviewing.

Step Two: Next, you need to assess your transferable and motivational skills, in other words, your unique gifts or talents, things that come naturally to you and that you are proficient at, and those things which you are deeply motivated (from within) to do.

Step Three:  This includes your acquired skills, namely your education, training, and experience. Related to this one – the bad news is that sometimes these acquired skills become obsolete, so you’ll need to keep yourself current through continuing education, additional training – particularly in technology – and therefore, expanding your experience – even through internships, etc.  In short, your “relevancy” in today’s job market needs “proof positive” of your skills, or employers see little or no value in hiring you.

Now that you’ve begun your journey, what’s next? Branding! Another buzz word for presenting yourself to the world, simple as that.

The key to creating your branding statement is: BE YOURSELF! Branding is actually quite simple, as it merely presents what you do, what makes you unique, and gets rid of meaningless, obsolete titles. It can be a real ice breaker, as well as a way to search for common values and mutual interests.

In creating your brand, you need to provide a salient story of achievement, based upon the SAR (Situation, Action, Results) model, and make sure that this story supports your brand. Make sure, also that it is three minutes or less, and … guaranteed… you’ll be a standout!

Now that you’ve created your “brand,” what do you need to get the word out?

First and foremost, your business card. On the front of the card, you’ll need to include your name, phone number Skype number, e-mail address, Twitter handle, LinkedIn address, and finally – your branding statement, which is a one-line statement that gets to the heart of your brand. On the back, you’ll put four or five concisely stated bullets describing your services offered.

Next is your “One Pager,” as it sounds, a one-page statement YOU! What’s included? Your professional expertise, what you do, how you work, a success story or two, services you provide, and how you can be of benefit. Keep in mind that all of the information provided should be completely based on your own unique personal brand!

You now have the basic networking tools, so with whom do you network?  There’s your “A” list, your “B” list, and perhaps, your “C” list. As follows:

Your A’s

  • Family, close friends and those that know you professionally and personally.
  • You are very current in the relationship
  • Stakeholders in your success
  • They will also return your e-mail or phone call within 36 hours or less.

Your B’s

  • Those you have known professionally in the past and worked closely with
  • There has been no contact in the last 12 – 18 months or longer. They may or may not return your phone call.

And your C’s

  • These are people that you have met but you with whom you have little history
  • There is really no need document. This category serves a s a “bucket” to put names in.

Once you have established your network, you need to have strategic objectives. In other words, how do you proceed? What’s your networking plan?

Here’s what works:

  • Pick one or two industries
  • Pick a niche or market segment Identify a max of 15 companies
  • (Excellent research tools: LinkedIn and Wikipedia)

And here’s what doesn’t:

  • Telling your network you are on the “market”
  • Sending a resume to anyone in your network.

 

Once you’ve established who your network is, the next step is to make direct contact, preferably with those on you’re a list. The A list is your “gold,” the B list, “silver,” and the C list – well, that’s your “just in case,” and/or “you never know – it’s worth a try.”

Remember, each contact needs to be personalized. Everyone wants to feel special, and this is how you start every communication, by personalizing it!

A rule of thumb for each contact:

Hello (Personalize it – their name!)

  • Personalize the first paragraph with each “A”
  • Search for the next great opportunity to help organizations (hiring or not) that I might be able to chat with (list targets)
  • Designate a specific area, even though a great Human Resources or admin person might get me connected
  • Attached your one pager.

 

You have your networking tools, you have identified your potential contacts (your A, B, and C lists), and you have initiated the first contact. Give yourself a pat on the back, because you’ve taken the very first, important step. So, just what is the networking process all about? Quite simply, it’s:

  • Strategic relationship building, which is your top priority
  • An exchange of  information
  • Discovering their needs as they relate to your relevant strengths
  • Determining if there is a match based on relevancy
  • If yes – full time, part time or short term contract
  • If no match – who else should I be talking to.

 

That’s it. It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? Here’s a sample networking conversation, which could go like this:

Them:

Hello, my name is and what do you do?

You:

Hello, my name is

State Your Brand

Them:

What does that mean?

You:

Here’s where you deliver your story and tell them what do you do?

Them:

Title and Company

You:

Have you been there long? Ask them,”What does 2015 bring in the way of challenges?”

 

Now suppose you go to a networking event, what are the kinds of questions that you should ask people as you start the process?

  • What’s your connection to the event?
  • Are you working on any charity initiatives?
  • How did you come to be in your line of work?
  • What do you know about the speaker today?
  • What is your interest in this topic?

 

Source: Questions from Alison Grahams book From Business Cards to Business Relationships: Personal Branding and Profitable Networking Made Easy, 2nd Edition.

 

Dale Carnegie was one of the fathers of sales, and networking was an integral part of what he taught – good, common sense people skills! As such, he recommended the following tips which apply directly to navigating successfully at networking events:

  1. Smile – people like it more than a scowl
  2. Ask a Question – Get clarification on a topic
  3. Listen – Most people like to talk about themselves
  4. Bring your business cards – a must have at events
  5. Say the person’s  name – people like to hear their own name spoken.

 

And what about social media? It’s a different world out there, and social media is on the forefront of initiating, maintaining, and expanding on social contacts – i.e. networking. Which sites are most useful for the greatest number of people?

  • LinkedIn – Be sure your LinkedIn Profile is up to date, relevant, and brand-oriented. Fully participate in discussion groups that reflect your brand and focus.
  • Facebook – used more for individual contributor positions and developing personal relationships
  • Twitter – This is your VP of Sales to promote you as an SME. Follow your target companies and people in those companies
  • Google +(Do you want to comment on this, Randy? – If not, should you leave it off?).

 

In today’s job market, networking is a Way of Life! How so?

  • Its basis is a strong foundation of relationships.
  • It needs to be used 24/7 by job seekers and those employed but always looking for the next position.
  • People by their nature what to help and contribute, so networking facilitates that process.
  • You care about people and have the courage to walk up to them and let them know it!
  • With networking, you can become the hunted moving away from being the hunter.

 

Summing up the issue of networking, here are some things to consider, some final words:

  1. You have enemies? Good. That means that you stood up for something some time in your life.
  2. -Winston Churchill
  3. Nothing in life is to be feared. It’s only to be understood. – Marie Curie
  4. Be curious: not judgmental – Walt Whitman
  5. Don’t trade your authenticity for approval.
  6. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

 

Randy – you might want to add a closing summary paragraph here. I want to make sure that this is really YOU, so … anyhow … just my thought.

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