Job Shopping? 6 Tips for Building a Strong Network


In less than five years, the average U.S. worker will get restless and change jobs. So says recent research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you’re among the go crowd and scouting out new prospects, the difference between landing the right new job or just settling can be determined by your professional network.

Building a strong network should be a work-day constant. New opportunities can arise anywhere and anytime--in a lunch line, on the train home or when placing your morning latte order. Being able to see and seize the personal connection that builds a solid network takes skill and some polished techniques.

David Bartell is a pro at connecting with others. As Director of Development at Syracuse University and a close personal friend, Bartell is a road warrior who meets hundreds of alumni, business leaders and community representatives each month to discuss personal and corporate philanthropy. Career success hinges on cultivating a spark that fuels strong relationships.

With insights from Bartell, here are six tips for pumping up your professional network.

Untether yourself. Take off the headphones and put away your phone. Unplug from the zone of Grateful Dead tunes. Pocket the smartphone. Don’t make these devices your safety blankets. When your head is down and eyes affixed on a small screen, you can’t engage anyone. Eyes initiate connections. Keep your head up, smile and initiate a conversation. You can easily break the ice with a compliment about someone’s watch or tablet case.

Get real. Be yourself and own who you are. Authenticity resonates with people. Bartell advises, “Be confident with your positive attributes, and don’t’ dwell on negative attributes. That means you need to have self-awareness of all the positive things that you are.” Make a list of your top five positive traits. Then validate it. Canvas a few friends for their opinion. You’ll likely discover an attribute that others value and you’ve overlooked.

Take time to prepare. Recalls Bartell, “One trick I learned is to rehearse in front of a mirror. You can rehearse your introduction, elevator speech, and questions. You can do all these things before you walk into a conference room.”  Go one step further and record yourself so that you can hear your voice and see your mannerisms. Actual visuals will unlock new awareness of how you conduct yourself. Consider the entire package—posture, tone, appearance and eye contact. Finally, practice your handshake. Get calibrated on the message you send with your grip. Does it convey confidence or insecurity?

Quality, not quantity. Don’t make networking transactional or task-oriented. Bartell used to keep tally. “I thought the more people I shook hands with, the better I would be. I’d wind up with a stack of business cards, but no story lines about the people behind the name and title. That’s not successful networking.”  Less can mean much more when you focus on creating one or two solid connections through meaningful conversations that help you learn about and from the other person. Don’t forget what you’ve learned. Record conversation highlights immediately after you’ve spoken, and create an appropriate follow-up strategy.

Most important person in the room: Think of that as a goal when making conversation in a crowded room. Says Bartell, “I have a friend who connects instantly with others. He asks thoughtful questions and patiently listens to understand their opinions. His goal is to make them feel like they are the most important person in the room.” Enhance that special feeling with follow-up practices, such as a phone call or handwritten note a few weeks later to underscore how much you enjoyed the conversation and to recall a discussion point that was raised.

Don’t lead with your resume. At some point in your career, you should have enough of a reach that you don’t need a resume to initially open doors. Your reputation and network will carve impressions in others that keep you top of mind when job opportunities arise. Get others talking about you. “Your network should be your marching band,” Bartell insists.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co.  in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce—a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.