Strategic Networking is a Lifelong Endeavour

Networking is a key facet of anyone’s career success.  It opens doors to new opportunities and facilitates the exchange of ideas.  For workers looking to their next career move, networking is critical in finding the opportunity, obtaining a referral or enlisting references.  And it takes many forms, from in-person social events to media platforms like LinkedIn.

Quite simply, networking is initiating and fostering relationships with others in your professional or industrial group. That sounds straight forward enough, but it’s hard work, often without any immediate benefit. It can also be intimidating for those us uncomfortable marketing our owns talents to others.  So, let’s boil it down to the basics.

Be genuine.  Connecting with others requires no special flair or pretense. It’s not a party trick and it’s not transactional.  It’s about recognizing your own value and respecting the needs and worth of others.  If you’re passionate about what you do and the value you bring, networking will come easily and naturally.  And the bonds you form with others will come as much from listening and learning about the goals of those you meet.  Try to be receptive to everyone – it’s a small world and the junior person you met recently might be in a position to hire you one day.  

Be the instigator. Take the first step. Reach out to others and follow up with them. Not only do you demonstrate your initiative by making the connection, but you also show that you care about the relationship with the other person.   And it’s perfectly OK to be friendly with someone you’ve met if they’ve extended their business card or connected with you on LinkedIn.  Not reaching out is a missed chance to build a relationship, so don’t waste the opportunity.  And the same goes for existing relationships – don’t let your contacts slip away out of neglect.

Be purposeful, deliberate and organized.  Attending to your network is a career-long project.  It takes time to build a great network the same way it takes time to build any relationship, and consistency is the key. If you need help staying organized, set reminders for yourself to stay in touch on a regular basis. That could be monthly or quarterly, depending on the connection.  It often helps to have some “reason” to renew the contact, which could be in the form of an update, a comment or inquiry regarding a piece of news in your sector industry, or even something as formal as a newsletter.  This way, you put quality ahead of quantity every time you reach out.  After all, having 10,000 connections on LinkedIn won’t lead to any job referrals if your contacts aren’t up to date with you and your activities. Networks are active, evolving entities requiring constant attention and regular contact.

If you’re looking for an effective network tomorrow, expect disappointment. You must start small, genuine and close to the heart

Be responsive to others.  Networking is reciprocal.  It’s about being there for your associates as much as it is about advancing your own career.  So be alert to others’ needs.  Sometimes, it means facilitating introductions among your own contacts, which can be a win-win in developing you own network.  Note that the flip side is equally true – the way to lose a great connection is by not showing up for someone who has put in effort for you along the way.

Remember that networks are like investments that start small but grow gradually over time. They require nurturing, regular attention and consistency.  But if you’re genuine, proactive and organized, you can expect to see your network expand progressively into a strong web of solid connections.