The richest people in the world look for and build networks. Everyone else looks for work.
—Robert Kiyosaki, American investor and author of Rich Dad Poor Dad
The perfect time to expand your network is when you have a job and don’t need anything from those that you meet and connect with. The key to networking in an already frantic world is not necessarily to spend more time at it but to be more effective at what you’re doing.
Here are some tips to help you become a more effective networker.
Use social media to your advantage
A 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 77% of employers use social networks for recruiting (an increase from 56% in 2011 and 34% in 2008). Not surprisingly, 94% of them use LinkedIn to find qualified candidates—which means you should keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and regularly add new connections and recommendations.
In addition to LinkedIn, a number of new technologies have emerged to track—and leverage—social relationships. The current star player on the corporate field is Klout, a site that assigns people “Klout scores” that indicate the strength of their influence in social media avenues. (Scores range from 1 to 100, with a high number indicating high influence.) Depending on the qualifications sought for an open position, HR managers may treat influence as a key factor when comparing candidates. For anyone seeking a career in recruiting, sales, marketing, or business development, having a low Klout score (or, even worse, not knowing it all) can be a career ender.
Although your personal page on Facebook should be open only to friends and family, many companies use their business pages to highlight job openings and company culture and increase their brand awareness. “Liking” the pages of companies that you’re targeting in a job search can help you stay informed about new positions that become available.
Twitter is another great venue for keeping up with companies that interest you as potential employers. Many companies openly invite their Twitter followers to participate in conversations with management and current employees and to explore career opportunities with those organizations. They connect with possible candidates by sharing videos and pictures; posting information about new product releases, offers, and job openings; and promptly responding to queries.
Use networking events to develop meaningful contacts
You have to be visible in the community. You have to get out there and connect with people. It’s not called net-sitting or net-eating. It’s call networking. You have to work at it.
—Ivan Misner, founder and chairman of Business Network International
As useful as social media can be, they aren’t the only way to build connections. If you want to have a strong network, you can’t spend all your time online—you need to get out there and interact with people in person, too.
Attending networking events is a no-brainer method for adding more people to your network of contacts. However, these events can be time consuming and not always productive. (Think about it: how many times have you left one of these gatherings without having met anyone useful there?)
The key to success at a networking event is to approach it with the proper expectations. Your goal in a two-hour event should be to make two or three meaningful contacts, not to walk out with twenty business cards from people with whom you didn’t really engage.
To make the most of your time at a networking event, do your homework before you go. Find out which organizations will be represented at the event and target specific attendees, then research the companies and their executives. Knowing the backgrounds of the people you meet will help you have meaningful conversations with them before you ask for their business cards—and gives you opportunities to follow up afterwards, too.
Remember: conversation is a two-way street, so avoid focusing only on yourself. Strive to be a truly likable person. People will remember your personality even if they cannot recall your list of accomplishments. If you want an executive to be interested in you (and possibly meet with you again after the event), you need to be interesting.
Use diligence to maintain your meaningful contacts
Once you’ve made a connection, wait two or three days to follow up (to avoid the initial crush). When you do, reminding the contact of your discussion. Regardless of whether he or she meets with you, it’s your responsibility to maintain the connection.
Set up Google alerts so articles with the company or executive’s name will be brought to your attention. Important notices can spark a quick “Congrats!” or similar note to the person you’re trying to meet, but don’t send more than one e-mail a quarter (unless you’re sharing really spectacular news). You don’t want your contacts to feel like you’re stalking them! Also, adding those contacts to your holiday card list is another way to keep the connection alive.
Use volunteer opportunities to expand your network
Another great networking strategy is to volunteer for a cause that you care about. Not only will you do something good for the world, but you may also have an opportunity to meet like-minded executives. (And you can bring the whole family along to volunteer events as well. Everyone wins!)
If you need ideas for where to volunteer, visit the websites of your targeted companies and look for the sections about their philanthropic activity. Many organizations list charities in which they are involved, and volunteering at those organizations might help you build valuable connections.
Use your alumni network to create opportunities
Finally, make use of your alumni network. Members of this network are already connected with each other—and this common ground gives you a built-in conversation starter.
Don’t underestimate the potential benefits of alumni organizations! In 1999 I helped create the cable channel Oxygen. When NBC Universal purchased the company a few years later, I was out of job because my functions were absorbed into NBCU. Through the Indiana University alumni relations office, I found out that a fellow alumni was the president of MediaWorks, a major division within NBCU—and the one that housed all the functions I led at Oxygen. I sent him an e-mail with “Fellow IU grad” in the subject line.
He agreed to meet, and one month later, I received two offers from different divisions in his realm. My IU connection didn’t get me the job (my skill set did that), but it did open a door for me. Without the alumni connection, I would not have had the opportunity to highlight my skills. I’ve since left NBCU to build my own consulting practice, and you bet I still use the IU alumni network.
Remember, now is the time to begin building your professional network. The job pool is filled with talented, hardworking individuals. So make yourself stand out by networking smarter, not harder! (For more useful tips on this topic, check out an earlier post on this blog: “10 Quick Networking Strategies That Will Keep You Connected.”)