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Networking for Career Success

Most executives and professionals know that, by developing a network of colleagues, they can gain a most valuable asset–one that can make a difference, especially during volatile and difficult times.

You need to present yourself, your skills and your experience in the best light possible.

That difference can be the one between a prolonged search with unimpressive results and one with less time and stress invested–which results in a position that can advance one’s career. Often, such positions are filled by companies before they are released as “job orders” to external recruiters, or to published sources both online and in print.

So you can often beat out and eliminate competition for a position that may suit your career plans.

There are at least three reasons to network, and although not separate from each other, it’s important for you to be clear about your reasons for setting up any networking meeting before you set it up. After all, the purpose of your meeting will largely determine the type of questions you will want to ask.

The first reason is the need to do research and gain information to move your search forward. It is quite common, immediately after one’s position has been eliminated, to call around to friends and colleagues and ask if they know of any positions that might be available–this is what most people think of as “networking!” While there’s a chance that this might bear fruit, it usually doesn’t get one too far–and it is definitely not the way to uncover the information you need to conduct an effective campaign.

Recently, an Art Director told me that, for her, being downsized was like having a jigsaw puzzle in a box with 1,000 pieces tossed on the floor (she saw herself as one of those pieces!). You have to put those pieces together, one by one, to have enough information to be competitive–and well positioned–for the type of positions that really matter to you. On- and offline research can provide the foundation for learning about current trends in an industry (putting together pieces of that “puzzle”)–connecting to the right companies, as well as to contacts that can bridge to those managers who do the hiring. But the most immediate and highest quality information will come from directed give-and-take, in person meetings between you and your contacts.

The second reason to network is the one we all know about: to get referrals that will connect you to someone who can hire you. This means that you need to present yourself, your skills and your experience in the best light possible. The person with whom you’re meeting must know that you are knowledgeable about the sector you’re both engaged in and his/her company and work–and that you are qualified to perform that function for their organization. In addition, he/she must be left with the feeling that you can bring something unique to them as a result of your previous work–and that you can offer new solutions to situations and problems, which might arise.

Yet, even at the end of an excellent meeting, there will be times when you may leave the meeting without receiving a further referral. One reason might be that your contact might be cautious about passing on such referrals in an initial meeting. Perhaps he/she has been “burnt” before, having given out contacts in a previous informational meeting to someone who was never heard from again. Having felt “used,” perhaps your contact wants to see if you will indeed follow up on suggestions they made, as well as to see if you really are interested in staying in contact with them.

This brings us to the third, the least-stated, and yet in the long-term, the most important reason for networking: to develop and nurture mutually beneficial relationships with colleagues and potential business associates. It is always important not only to immediately thank you contact for meeting with you in a letter–and to let them know that you will move on their suggestions, but to offer them your help if ever they should need it. This will speak strongly to your enthusiasm for working in your field, as well as your understanding of the fact that you are not alone in having to deal with volatility in the marketplace–and this will show your desire to move with resiliency to help your colleagues whenever possible.

This is also why involvement with professional associations, especially for career-changers, may offer the single best source of opportunities to develop a lot of new networking contacts from one source. It also gives you a great way to keep yourself current with the latest developments in your field. Professional associations are also well aware–and supportive–of the need for their members and potential members to network. In fact, they will set aside time at the beginning of chapter meetings for just that purpose. Active involvement, i.e., joining committees, writing articles for newsletters, etc., will enable you to get positive exposure–and enhance your positioning, as well as open up greater opportunities to meet new colleagues. More importantly, you will be able to develop the type of collegial relationships, which will move your career along, well beyond the time that you land your next position or consulting engagement.

By Hal Flantzer