People with strong networks get better jobs quicker, promoted faster and have more resources to draw upon throughout their career. The truth is – your success depends as much on WHO you know, as it does on WHAT you do. (That’s why politicians worry about their favorability ratings. Voters – like hiring managers – tend to choose people they know and like over people they don’t.)
Today we have an especially effective resource for networking – social media. Through it, you can expand your professional network far beyond your immediate geographic location. For example, one of my favorite people in my own professional network is Hank Blank. Hank is a consultant to ad agencies and marketing departments on how to function most effectively in the new normal. He has a great blog and gives seminars all over the country on the topics of networking, job search and career development.
We linked in with each other about five years ago (I forget how) and have been commenting on each other’s blogs ever since. Although Hank lives in California and I’m in Chicago, we still manage to swap favors from time to time. (I helped his daughter find a new job in Chicago and Hank has advised me on new business presentations.) Like me, Hank knows that building a strong network is the best way to assure continual employment. Below is a brief review of some ideas I got from Hank on networking – online and off:
Networking is the best way to build professional relationships.
Moreover, like almost everything else involving more than one person, networking is most effective when it serves the interests of both parties. So view networking as a way to:
- Help others, as well as yourself, achieve professional goals
- Meet people you’d like to know through people you already know
- Connect people you know with people they want to know
- Build long-term relationships that you can depend on throughout your lifetime
Practice networking constantly throughout your career.
Whatever your position, industry or job title, networking should be part of your own personal best professional practices. Here are some guidelines to help you:
- Be open to meeting new people – in social situations as well as at professional events
- Keep in touch with the people you meet and get to know through email, phone calls, and informal meetings
- Meet people one-on-one after connecting at an event, party, class or other group activity
- Make an effort to proactively help your networking contacts in any way you can
- Thank people when they help you through email, a phone call or a written note
- Find ways to pay back favors as soon as you can
Social media is the perfect vehicle for networking in the digital age.
Ideally, as a member of the Chicago AMA you network at several different events every year. However, if you’re like most people you have a limited amount of time to devote to onsite meetings. Fortunately, social media allows you to interact with dozens of people with a relatively small investment of time and effort. Here are TEN TIPS on how to use LinkedIn and other social media sites to expand and deepen your network relationships.
1. Fill in your LinkedIn profile as completely as you can including a photo.
In today’s job market a LinkedIn profile is as important as a resume and much more useful. It’s not only an information source you can direct other people to (see tip #2), it will be viewed by employers and recruiters throughout the world without you doing anything at all. Make sure to include a recent photo that shows you as you want to appear during an interview. Well-groomed, smiling and well worth talking to.
2. Put your LinkedIn link on your business cards along with your email and URL.
This allows people to learn more about you without passing our resumes or performing elevator speeches. And since your LinkedIn profile can include access to work samples and recommendations as well as details of your work history, it’s an incredibly efficient information source.
3. Link in with new contacts.
After a meeting or other event where you’ve met people you’d like to include in your network, send them an invitation to link in with you using the email address they have on their business card. Make sure you personalize the invitation to include a reference to how you met and what you do. You might also suggest meeting again face-to-face in to continue and deepen your connection.
4. Share an update on LinkedIn at least once a week.
It’s a great way to keep your LinkedIn network up on what you’re doing, learning, reading, etc. Remember, LinkedIn is NOT facebook! References to grandkids, dogs and vacations are not appropriate. But do mention your attendance at a seminar, job fair, receipt of an invitation to pitch a new piece of business and any awards you win. You can also include a link to your latest blog, YouTube production or online articles.
5. Do NOT use personal social media pages for your professional contacts.
Remember, whatever you put on line could be seen by EVERYONE including future employers. So keep your personal correspondence private. Facebook is wonderful for sharing family news, political views and favorite jokes. But none of these are appropriate to include in a professional presentation.
6. Use LinkedIn groups to extend your professional network.
These groups often have job boards that could lead to employment opportunities. Also commenting on other group member’s observations or answering questions they have, is a great way to enhance your professional reputation.
7. Don’t use your LinkedIn network as a cold call list of prospects.
Social media isn’t about increasing sales in the short term. The whole point of it is to develop strong, mutually beneficial long-term relationships with professional contacts. Trying to sell something to someone you just met does not engender trust. But as your LinkedIn contact, they’ll have a chance to get to know and like you better through your profile, updates and blogs – even if you rarely meet face to face. In the end, this interaction is the best way to build the kind of relationships you can depend on throughout your career.
8. Take advantage of the insights LinkedIn offers you on a profile or job description.
When you look up someone else’s profile, LinkedIn provides you with information about who you have in common, where they’ve worked, went to school and the organizations they belong to. You can also read what others think of them and see samples of their work. If you search for a job on LinkedIn, the system automatically lists any of your contacts who are working for that company now or did so in the past. All of this is terrific information to have before you even apply for the job, let alone have to prepare for an interview.
9. Treat your networking contacts like the good friends you hope they’ll become.
Offline – don’t be late for a date. Thank them if they treat you to coffee or a meal and follow up with a written thank you by email or snail mail. Then treat them at the next meeting. Online – acknowledge their emails and messages within 24 hours. Congratulate them on promotions and new positions. Like and comment on their Pulse blogs. And always try to help them with their professional goals if you expect them to help you with yours.
10. Remember – one way or another you’ll always get back more than you give.
Networking works best when you genuinely try to help other people, not use them.
The payback may take a while, but eventually the people you help will help you. Furthermore, the surest way to empower yourself is to help others. So practice “Altruistic Self-interest: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – only do it FIRST!”
Wendy Lalli consults on marketing projects through her own agency, Wendy Lalli Ltd. and is CD of Crux Creative, a marketing agency in Wisconsin. She also mentors other marketing professionals in transition and wrote on job search for the Chicago Tribune and 25 newspapers in the Chicago Sun Times network.