Business networking has bad connotations — we have visions of being at meetings, glad-handing business cards to all takers — or being back in high school wondering if you’ll be invited to the prom — or if you’ll get picked for the team. But having and supporting a business network is one of the keys to a successful job search. Even if you are not in a job search now, cultivating a business network is critical to your long-term employment security — and they don’t magically build themselves. You have to take action to build yours and make it central to your career planning and development. I’m Cat Miller, and this is Dice TV.
Too many people think networks are only about finding jobs. While that’s one part of it, the better way to think about your network is that it will help you grow your job and career.
The first thing you need to do to build your network: actively acquire people. This is not adding whoever pops up on LinkedIn or Google+. Nor is it having 5,000 friends on Facebook. Instead, decide who you know – or should know – that can support your career goals, and who you can help reach theirs. These people can be peers in your company, or hiring managers, or members of a professional organization. Or, they can simply be people who leave your company — and when they do — make sure you get their personal contact information so you can keep in touch. Say 20 people leave your company that you know and trust. That gives you inside contacts at the 20-or-so companies where they end up working. Actively adding people to your network is work. It can be challenging since this is an important — but not urgent goal. The time to build your business network is precisely when you don’t need one.
Managing your network comes in two parts: First, you need to consistently communicate. It makes no sense to get all that great personal contact information and then not talk to a person for a year. Second, most of us quickly outgrow our ability to keep track of everyone and what they’re up to, so we need a personal equivalent to a Customer Relationship Management program. My favorite is “Jibber Jobber.” Now, we don’t like to think that our friends, co-workers or acquaintances need management. But they do. It’s easy to think that you’ve been keeping up with the contacts in your circle – and then realize that months have passed since you did. That’s why you need some kind of relationship management system.
Finally, you need to actively support your network. Building and staying in contact with your network isn’t enough. The real strength of your network is your ability to help your contacts. Whether it is a recommendation, helping solve a problem or providing your perspective on a question, you want to have helped others so they are willing to help you. Some day the time will come when you will need support to solve a problem at work, get perspective on a job, or find out information about a company. The people that you’ve helped will likely be there for you, and people will come to you with opportunities — you won’t have to go searching for them.
If you build it, opportunity will come. I’m Cat Miller, this is DiceTV, and we now return you to your regular desktop.