The way networking operates is similar to the way a little yeast works through a batch of dough: Both require time, a little massaging, and consistency. Given that, in certain circumstances, 85 percent of all jobs are filled through networking, it behooves every professional to learn how to network.
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The successful networker understands that it's about giving more than taking for the long term. Successful networking takes time to "work through the batch."
Here are some ways to become a successful networker and fully tap into your network:
1. Business Cards
I know most people will have real business cards, but if all else fails, a digital business card can be as useful as a physical one. It's a good idea to include links on your business card to your LinkedIn profile and other professional websites. There are apps available to help you create cards, but it can be as simple as using a stock image (considering copyright laws, of course!) and including your contact info.
Try creating a one-page document to hand out at networking events. This "handbill" should quickly summarize your contact info, skills, and experience. To quote Jessica Dillard, the founder of Dillard Associates: "It doesn't replace the resume, but in particular environments [it can] go before it."
3. Thank-You Notes
Consider sending notes after informational meetings, networking events, and even LinkedIn recommendations or referrals. Sometimes, an email is enough; other times, a handwritten note will stand out more.
It's easier to stay in touch with your network through Skype – and usually less expensive, too! It's accessible on all electronic devices, and you can use it for calls, texts, and creating a contact database.
5. A Planner of Some Kind
I prefer to keep my scheduling tools accessible from all of my devices. If you don't, there are planners to help you keep track of your schedule. You should take your networking appointments as seriously as you would a job interview.
6. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.
Your favorite social media platforms will be whichever ones produce the most relationships for you. Figure out which social networks will expand your connections and lead to the most meaningful discussions for your career. Then, focus on these sites.
1. Informational Interviews / Business Conversations
It's good to have conversations about possible career developments without anyone feeling obligated. The intelligence you collect in these conversations will be applicable to your career path and yield actionable steps – maybe not right away, but down the line. Think of this as a long-term move, and be prepared to give back to those with whom you chat.
2. Give Without Expecting a Return (Most of the Time)
Networking is about what you offer others. If you are giving your best, an equal return may be unachievable, but rest assured: When the time comes, the value will be received.
3. Quality, Not Quantity
Many LinkedIn users have thousands of contacts they have never even Googled. These connections are just numbers, marketing opportunities to be wasted. You won't benefit from the quality of your connections until you take the conversation outside of LinkedIn.
4. Expand Personal Brand Awareness
Do you want to increase your exposure and get others excited to connect with you? Your social profiles need to be attractive, but the other part of the equation is being social. Talking with the right people can yield relevant intel for your resume, interview, or partnership.
5. Remember: 'To Teach Is to Learn Twice'
Share what you've learned with individuals and small groups. As you start dialogues, your thought leadership potential grows. The more established you are in your field, the more opportunities you'll have to meet new people and show off your core competencies.
6. Center Your Personality and Character
Employers hire likable people. Show likability, and you will increase your memorability. Relax. Be yourself.
Not only can volunteering help you hone your skills, fill your resume gaps, and give back to your community, but it is also a great way to meet new people. Considering getting in touch with the boards of directors at philanthropic organizations. The people on these boards are often connected to corporations and hiring authorities.
8. Attend Industry Events
The best part of attending any conference is the networking you can do before, during, and after. If you want to maximize your possibilities, lead a breakout group, pre-conference session, or even a class or event.
Networking can happen anywhere and everywhere. Whether you're walking the dog or waiting in line, you may be a conversation away from your next gig.
Networking works best as a way of life. People who understand this maximize their potential opportunities and increase their chances of being found by the right people.
As you work through "the batch" of your network, the intention is to make it grow. The quality of your network outweighs the quantity of contacts, of course, but you should always be on the lookout for valuable people to add. Remember: Your network improves based on how much value you add. As you refer, direct, and advise individuals, it's the "yeast" working. People will tell others about you.
Mark Anthony Dyson is a career consultant, the host and producer of "The Voice of Job Seekers" podcast, and the founder of the blog by the same name.