There is a saying: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
While there is truth in the benefit of knowing someone to land a job, your connection does not necessarily guarantee your position at a company forever. Ultimately, it is what you know that will become the reason you continue to progress at a company and also within your career. Many networking relationships greatly influence hiring decisions and as a result employee referrals are often chosen above other applicants. Before available positions become public knowledge, management will often ask employees if they can recommend someone they may know. You could be one of 100 applicants and your networking relationship may be the very reason your application is moved to the top of the stack.
While pursuing my Master’s Degree, I conducted a study on the talent management practices of one of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work for; Balfour Beatty Construction (BBC) where I interviewed the Human Resource Manager, Mila Smith. During the interview I learned a great deal about the organization, its recruitment practices, retention efforts and its succession planning strategies. When specifically asked what the primary source of new talent was for BBC, Smith informed me most of their hires are either employee referrals or through their college recruitment internship program. Through Smith’s experience, she found that “good people generally know good people”.
Now to be clear, the value of networking surely reaches beyond job seekers. Networking is also a significant benefit for many other reasons such as; professional relationship building, new client opportunities and grant support for non-profit organizations. Networking can be intimidating to those branching out for the first time; however, I believe it is absolutely worth the investment of risking possible embarrassment or overcoming insecurities (both of which I am a victim of) because it is essential to career success. I recognize personal and professional growth is an ongoing process and in an effort to share my accumulated knowledge, here are some suggestions to get you started:
Step 1: Form a goal. What do you expect to get out of networking? Is it a new job, a new client or maybe even a mentor or coach to help guide you towards career success? Whatever your choice may be, remember it when you are in a room full of people there for a variety of reasons.
Step 2: Put yourself out there; networking opportunities are everywhere. You can network with someone in an elevator, a grocery store, the train, subway, airplane…you get it! Take your pick, but always seize the opportunity to network with others through small conversation. Start with a compliment to help break the ice and always look directly into the eyes of the person you are speaking to. It shows you are engaged and interested in the conversation which leaves a great impression and will be helpful when you follow-up with a phone call or email later. Please remember: no cell phone checking or texting when you are at a networking function See my blog on Social Networking.
Step 3: Go to local events. Everything we need to know about the events in our neighborhood is at the tip of our fingers. I could find at least 25 networking events in my area right now simply by typing a quick Google Search or signing up for a social website specializing in connecting locals groups for events. You’d be surprised how many people in your neighborhood or within your professional or personal circle attend networking events. Show up to the next event and bring a friend if you can. It can be very intimidating to go to a new place not knowing anyone and just start mingling. Don’t worry! You can do this. Just think of it this way, your future depends on it.
Step 4: Share what you know, otherwise smile and nod. Most of these meetings are all about networking, so it’s not unusual to enter into a conversation and introduce yourself or just listen to what is being said and jump in if you have something valuable to add. Now, be sure to use wisdom when interjecting. If you are not confident about what you are about to say, the best thing to do is stay silent! There may be follow up questions from the group and you don’t want to look clueless because you didn’t think that far ahead. Always bring a business card with you and always exchange cards before you leave the conversation.
Step 5: Be aware of your surroundings. This may go without saying to some so bear with me while I reiterate the importance of considering the environment before you engage with others about anything personal while at a professional function. People are always watching and listening. You will not know everyone that is around you when you are in a networking environment, which is all the more reason you should be careful to not speak ill of others. For example, if you are there to connect with potential employers and you are having a light conversation, there is no need to turn it into a bashing session about your current workplace. Negative comments are not memorable in positive ways. The goal is to leave a positive impression with those you connect with so they think positive thoughts when you connect with them again.
Step 6: Stay connected! After the event, be sure to go through the business cards you’ve received and connect with each person through LinkedIn, facebook or any other social media networks. If there is someone you feel you had a great connection with, send them a note via the social networking site or through email to let them know it was a pleasure meeting them and you hope to stay connected in the future. Stay in touch with them in an effort to build a professional relationship and keep in mind that just knowing someone may be all you need to get to that next level.
Now, you are ready to go! See you at the next event!!