Sunday, August 9, 2009

Networking 101

I'm sure you've heard by now that networking has become the best way to find a job in the current job market. This makes a ton of sense because it's a lot easier t hire someone you "know" than some random person who floats in off a job posting. This trend unfortunately makes it harder and harder to get hired than ever before, PLUS networking is not easy. Networking is a skill most people use only when they need it to find a new job.

The problem with this, is that by ignoring your professional network until you absolutely need it; is that your networks is in no condition to help you find that next gig. Think about a garden, if you don't tend to things it gets overgrown and becomes pretty much useless. However, if you keep it clean and put in the time/effort to maintain things, next thing you know you have a beautiful garden that provides beautiful flowers and home grown produce. Your professional network, is a garden and with the right amount of attention it can provide great things. Ignore your network and it goes to the weeds.

So, want to get your professional network in order? Here are a few tips to help. They are listed in order from easiest to hardest so don't try to tackle the last item first, gotta crawl before you can walk people :)

1) Develop and maintain your online profile - Do you have a LinkedIn profile yet? If not, stop reading and go open an account. It's free and has pretty much turned into a who's who of the professional world. Spend some time, developing your profile and make sure it's "complete" meaning that you have your job history, education, etc, filled out completely. Once you've done that, you should connect to other people that you know. LinkedIn is great because based on your profile it automatically pulls a list of people you may know from your work and educational history. Connect to people who know and watch your network grow. It's really amazing, once you've got a few connections you'll notice that you'll have access to 2nd and 3rd degree connections and your network is well on it's way. Keep finding new connections, join groups that interest you and keep expanding your network on LinkedIn - between professional connections and the number of jobs posted on LinkedIn its an amazing place to build your network. If you're not connected to me, you should be....find me and ping me a note that you read my blog so I'm sure to accept.

2) Reach out to old school connections - Remember Bill from the fraternity? Yeah, he runs his own company now and is hiring. That kid you made fun off in math class? Well, he's working at a new web start-up and they are hiring too. The moral of the story here? In college you develop bonds with people. Some of them last a lifetime, some of the don't....regardless, you should be using these relationships to help your career. I can tell you, my first two jobs were a direct result of my college connections. Ok, so this makes sense right? Well, how do we find these people who we haven't talked to in years? A few ways - Facebook, LinkedIn or your local alumni chapter are all great sources to find former college friends and reestablish those connections. The great thing about these connections is the are really easy to reestablish. Pick up the phone or send a quick email and next thing you know you'll be right back in the swing of things reminiscing not only the good old days at school but also talking about the future.

3) Touch base with former colleagues - Former colleagues are vital to your network. They know you, they know your work and they are likely to have jobs that would be a fit for you. Even better, former colleagues eventually move on the greener pastures too, and assuming things go well these greener pastures will need to hire too...that's where you come in. I'd recommend you try to talk to one or two former colleagues every week if you can. You don't need to have a 30 minute conversation, just a quick "hey, how's it going" and you are good to go. If you were to do this, you'd be talking to 8 people a month, and almost 100 folks a year. One hundred connections, who know you and your work could be a real asset if you had to REALLY start looking for a job.

4) Networking groups, user groups and other industry associations - TONS of these groups exist for the purpose of networking or exchanging ideas. A quick Google search will find you a huge list of groups that might be a perfect place for you to expand your network. What I really like about these groups is they give you a low risk opportunity to talk to people not only about "jobs" but also to talk to them about best practices and learn a few tips/tricks along the way. Another cool thing about networking groups, is they allow you to meet people and make connections in new industries. Many of these groups have sites in "LinkedIn" so you just sign up for the daily news feed and start meeting new people.

5) Industry Leaders - So, this is the hardest but potentially most exciting type of networking. Most industry leaders are active bloggers or tweeters and it's very easy to read their thoughts and learn from them. If you aren't reading blogs (um, riiight) or following people you respect/admire on Twitter than you should again, stop reading this and sign up for Twitter. Ok, welcome back.... So, you follow the people and heed their advice, great, now to incorporate them into your network. Ask these people for advice or their thoughts on your most pressing issue. Working on a new start-up? Ping some of these industry leaders a quick ask their advice. Trust me, most of these people really appreciate the opportunity to talk to someone directly. You may not always year back from people, but some of them will follow up with you and with a little luck and a lot of work you can build a relationship with thought leaders in your industry that should help you get better at your trade when you have a job but also help you find a great job when you need a new one.

Ok, so those are a few quick tips on helping to grow your professional network. Its not easy and its a pain to find time to network but you HAVE to do it if you want to succeed in today's hiring environment. Start slow, and take time each week to dedicate yourself to growing your network. I personally try to talk to at least two former colleagues a week as well as one "new" person a week. I'd really like to get that "new" number closer to three a week but I'm not there yet.......oh well, time to stop blogging and start networking. Let me know how it goes!!!

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