“B” Is For Build Your Network

by Antonio Guimaraes Jr., East Providence, Rhode Island

I am planning a series of articles which will follow novelist Sue GraftonÂ’s idea of titling the work based on a particular letter of the alphabet–“B” is for build your network, “S” is for schedule your priorities, and so forth. I hope these articles prove helpful and useful to many, and that you, in particular, will derive something of value from it.

“Thou Shalt Build Thy Network,” sayeth the career coach. Most people have heard some statistic or other about how many jobs are acquired not during a job search, but because of networking. Some probably wonder how this is done, and how you can network without appearing self-interested.

When you make a concerted effort to be in touch with friends and associates, they will be more willing and able to help you whether you are hoping to change jobs, or simply doing a bit of research. Building a network is more than making contacts and asking them for help. It is a continuous process of turning acquaintances into meaningful contacts by nurturing the relationship and staying in touch.

There are some sound reasons for you to build your network and keep it growing, even when you think you don’t need it anymore. Say you are fresh out of college and you have no network of trusted professionals in your field. You go about the business of collecting business cards and building up your contacts until you get a job. You get settled in your job, and you let go of your contacts. You think the network youÂ’ve built has served its purpose, and you abandon it as soon as you reap the benefits you seek.

This sort of “networking” is shortsighted. “But,” you might say, “I got the job, didnÂ’t I?” Yes, but how useful will that network be when you encounter your first serious job crisis or when it’s time to look for your next job?

According to Mike Auzenne and Mark Horstman, the career executives who host the Manager Tools Podcast at www.manager-tools.com, building a meaningful network that lasts is a three-step process: 1. Build your contact list indiscriminately. 2. Give, give, give. 3. Stay in touch. LetÂ’s take each step and go over how it can be accomplished.

1. Build your contact list indiscriminately. Don’t try shooting for the CEO or other specific VIP’s. Your brother, teacher, a high school friend, roommate, and coffee shop barista are all game for your network. Keep in mind to diversify your contacts. Horstman said in the Manager Tools Podcast that a network should be “diverse in roles, in culture, in the background, in industry, in skills, in locations, and hobbies.” He continued by saying that the diverse network will become powerful over time. This means you have more leverage in your career, and you have more people to call on.

Keep all your contacts in one easy-to-find location. Staying organized makes it easy to just pick up the phone, or write that e-mail. I am actually just starting to build my network, even though I have many contacts. If you are starting out like me, add one person a week to your network, and follow steps two, and three below.

2. Give, give, give. You may not have much to offer, but you should seize the opportunity to help in any way you can, at any time you can, and learn more about the person you are helping every time. If you can afford to, offer to take a colleague to lunch, or out for coffee. A face-to-face will solidify your relationship that much quicker.

Just remember you are not in it only for yourself. If you are, your network of associates will be on to your game in a hurry and will not be very helpful for very long. To be sure, you are making connections, and favors will be exchanged, but approach the network as an intricate web of relationships, where there is always give and take. Just remember your guiding principle: give, give, give.

3. Stay in touch. Managers and good reliable employees have a consistent pattern of behavior. Staying in touch should follow a pattern of behavior for you. You should be in contact with each person in your network at least once every quarter. If you go beyond three months, and you forget to call or e-mail, you will not have enough contact with your associates.

You should find and use the most reliable way for you to stay on top of recurring appointments. Whether it is your notetaker’s calendar or a list of names on a website such as www.tadalist.com, you should have weekly, monthly, quarterly, and birthday get-in-touch lists, just for starters.

You will have to work hard to find a system that functions well for you. Perhaps you can test drive the new Handy Contact Management System (CMS) at www.handycsm.net. This is a CMS designed with accessibility in mind from the ground up. Call or e-mail, and even if there is no response on the phone, you can always leave a friendly message.

It goes without saying that you donÂ’t tell people in your network that they are part of your network. You simply act naturally, find new and diverse types of people, remember to give, give, give, and stay in touch.