You may have just come into the business, and want to get started building your network. Or, you may have been in the business for years, have a pile of old business cards, e-mail addresses, and book-marked web sites sitting in a paper or electronic pile doing you absolutely no good. In either case, it is time to build your network. The first question is what do you want you network to do for you? It is both a simple question and it is an important question. For example, if you are a recruiter, you probably want your network to give you:
- Access to potential candidates in your chosen market.
- Leads in the business and industry with which you are serving for assignments.
- Business support contacts (ad agencies, recruiting event organizers…).
- Information about activities and events where you can interact in a professional atmosphere with potential clients, sources, and candidates.
- Information Brokers.
- Peers within your industry.
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How mature is your hiring process? Answer these 5 questions and find out.
Please note that there are five other categories before I have listed “other recruiters” as part of your recruiting network. Well, how many candidates and clients would you expect another recruiter to give you. You certainly want to make a category of peers for general information exchange, industry news, and “gossip,” and potential resources for you to hire for your own organization, or seek alternative employment yourself. Certainly you need your peer community in your over-all network. But when assessing how extensive your “connections” are to evaluate your networks potential for making you money, do not count your industry peers. All too often I have found that networks over burdened with peers and few other categories are in reality “I’m bored” phonebooks. Or great people for sending e-mail jokes back and forth. Now that you have an idea of what you want your network to do for you, you have to start enlisting other people to become part of your network. You recruit. This is where the ease and speed of the Internet can work against you. Since it is easy to develop names in your Cyber-office, it may appear the most productive use of your time. But, the most useful members of my network are the ones I have met. Professional Society diners, Career Fairs, Professional Seminars, and other events that attract the more involved and active segment of our industry. The fact they are “out there” shaking hands means I want to know them. They know other people. But they also understand the universal truth about networking, “Get out there.” I have never met a business card I did not want or find myself without one of my own. But of equal importance, you are seen as a person who is worth knowing as well. Remember that networking requires a receiver as well as a transmitter. The first step in being seen as “connected” is to be seen. A few years ago a recent college graduate joined all the area human resources organizations introduced themselves to anybody who would stand still long enough to say “hello.” This person never worked a day in a professional position within HR, but we all knew this person as well as each other. It was not long before this person routinely received calls about openings. People offered to make calls and extend introductions to their network friends. The outcome was obvious, this person obtained an excellent position with a highly regarded company. It is true; this person’s talent was responsible for the fact they were hired. But, it was the network that brought the right person and the right opportunity together. The Internet is an excellent tool for the long-term process of relationship management and extending your network beyond the geographic reality of your life. But do not assume you can develop the level of network required to sustain a career on a Pentium Processor. The next important step in building your network is dedicate the time needed to build it, repair it, or refine and organize it. Networks take time to build. For a long period of time in the beginning a network may require more effort than it pays back. You are making more outbound calls than you are receiving back. Few people seem willing to assist with information, leads, or other names. But it will never come if you do not commit the time. Spend an hour a day on your network. This could be calls, e-mails, or outside events. But it should be some level of person-to-person contact. Adding another bookmark to your toolbar does not count as networking. That is research. Take notes when you talk to people or read their responses. Remember details. Keep information logs. In order for your network to sustain your business needs, you need to do more than make phone calls or send messages. You must contribute information. To contribute information others value, you have to know who they are and what they want. If you are talking to a person in your network who mentions that they have always wanted to take sailing cruise off the coast of Maine, make a note. A week later when you hear about Windjammer Cruises out of Camden and Rockport (or even pick up the WEB site URL) you have a reason to call this person back with data they can use. It proves you were really listening to this person, we all appreciate respect. It means you were considerate enough to remember and call back, we all like consideration. It also means that every time you call, it is not just you looking for something you want. The other nice piece of information is that your potential networking partner owes you. Remember, you do not pick up the phone, or send a message your first message and get a million-dollar response. You build the information exchange network, one step at a time. Sometimes, vacation tip at a time. Building a network is planning what you want to harvest, discovering where that harvest can be found, and investing time to get to know the “farmers” who are surrounding the fields. But this is all about preparation and information gathering. The next part is “Managing and Maintaining Your Network.” In other words, using it for business.