Some of you are natural networkers. You are constantly in contact—taking the time to talk with people both inside and outside of your company, and you don’t even have to think about it. Some of you are not natural networkers, but you have learned the critical elements needed to create and maintain a healthy network. The fact is, no one becomes a master networker overnight. It takes time and experience as well as a willingness to try new behaviors. The most important thing is to take the first step.
As a master networker, remember that just as you are looking for individuals to be in your network, others will be looking to put you in theirs. If you meet someone you know you would like in your network, be mindful of their time. Engage with them and if it is going well, ask if they would like to have lunch to continue the conversation. If they seem vague or unresponsive to your suggestion, leave it alone and follow up with them later.
Whatever your strategy is, remember to respect the other person and his or her time. Keep in mind that even though the person may not be a candidate for your network today, he or she may be one in six months. People remember how you treat them much more than what you say.
Here are some more tips to help you on your way to becoming a master networker.
Get to know your boss’s core network. When the people your boss listens to become part of your network, you have an alternate route to get your boss information he or she needs to hear.
Be a giver. Offer to help individuals in your network as often as you can. They will be inclined to reciprocate.
Trade your network wisely. The most efficient way to expand your network is to trade networks with others. But remember that quality is more important than quantity—trade only when the other person has something valuable to offer you, or you to them.
Treat the “gatekeepers” in an organization like gold. “Gatekeepers” are personal assistants whose job it is to make sure their bosses see only who they want to see. They are well connected, helpful, and have subtle influence over their boss.
Join a group where you have something to offer. And find out what the group can offer you: contacts, exposure, and experience. Remember, when you are on a committee with a CEO, you are equals. You never get that opportunity in any other setting.
Keep an electronic record of your network partners. Include birthdays, hobbies, special events—any information that can help you be a better and more connected network partner.
Use social networks, but not exclusively. Social networks such as LinkedIn or Plaxo can be powerful tools as well giving you a larger reach than you could physically manage otherwise. But meeting people face-to-face leads to stronger connections.
Never underestimate someone’s influence. Don’t make assumptions about who they know and how they can help. Social networks can take some of the mystery out of that as your contact’s contact list becomes available to you.
Don’t let your network go static. Review it often and add people who fulfill a specific skill or set of contacts.
Deepen existing relationships. Networking isn’t just about what others can do for you. It’s about developing long-term relationships based on mutual help and support.
Diversify your reach. Look in unconventional places to add new perspectives. Look outside your demographic and comfort zone. Here are some ideas about groups you can join for networking advantage: Company-sponsored functions; professional and trade associations; workplace committees; chambers of commerce; civic and service organizations; hobby/health/sports activities; college/university alumni groups; and religious organizations.
In order to thrive in your career, you must become a master at networking. Your network is your “net worth”—and it is the single most important skill you will learn in the world of work.
Beth Banks Cohn PhD is a leading expert in change management and leadership development. Roz Usheroff is an internationally recognized communication expert and personal branding executive coach. They are coauthors of the new book, Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times…and Beyond.