Looking for a new job, concerned about a potential lay-off, wanting to reconnect with old colleagues, or have an amazing new idea you want to get supporters for?
You’ve been told you’re “supposed” to network, but how to do it without coming off like some type of slimy salesperson?
Building your professional relationships – often known as networking – doesn’t have to be a insincere self-promoting sales job; building professional relationships can be as simple as authentically connecting with others about topics that are of common interest to both of you.
If you’ve ever made a friend, or gone on a date, you actually already know how to network!
And regardless of where you are in your career, building and maintaining professional relationships is a critical skill for any stage of professional development. Networking can actually be about fulfilling your purpose, about making a difference on the topics that matter to you.
Over the next two weeks, I’m going give you 9 clear steps to help you build and enhance your professional network and working relationships – starting this week with how to set your goals and map your network.
Step #1: Have a clear goal for networking.
Conventional wisdom about job hunting and career development says that you “should” network, but before you ever pick up of the phone or type out an email, pause for a moment, and answer this question:
Why do you want to build your professional network?
You want to be clear about your intent in building your professional network before beginning.
As the adage goes, you need to start with the end in mind.
Being clear about your goals up front can help and be an important reference point for you throughout the entire process of networking. Write it down: What is my goal of networking (starting a job hunt, researching new professional area, launching new initiative or project)? What will be different for me once I have a larger, stronger or more connected network?
Step #2: Who’s in your network?
You’ll want to start with making a list of your existing connections.
Whether you are looking to break into a new area or career, revitalize your passion, or start a new initiative, start with the people who already know, like, and respect you.
Who have been your cheerleaders, your greatest supporters, or informal mentors? To help jog your memory, look through your archived email and alumni newsletters, as well as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter accounts to remind yourself of current and past important people in your career or life.
Consider these various categories of people and list up six people in each category who you currently know:
Colleagues/associates: people with whom you discuss important professional or work matters.
Champions/Advisors: people on whom you have relied on in the past, people who are helping you now, people who you respect, or on whom you rely for advice, letters of recommendation, or introductions.
Friends: your closest friends, people with whom you most like to spend your free time or with whom you would confide regarding a personal situation.
Other Contacts: neighbors, important people from your past, or new contacts you find interesting.
Step #3: Who are your hero/ines?
After you’ve made your list of supporters, next make a list of people (or organizations) where you don’t currently have an “in”, but that you think are doing amazing, interesting, or groundbreaking work.
These could be leaders in your field or community; speakers, authors or thought leaders who inspire you; more experienced colleagues who you admire and share your interests or passions; or organizations you dream of working for or leading.
Who isn’t currently in your network that you’d like to meet? Who would you love to spend 30 minutes with having a professional conversation? Prioritize up to 6 hero/ines.
Step #4: Map your network
You now have two lists: people in your network, and people (and organizations) you’d like to have in your network.
Your first list, the folks in your network or “inner circle” are going to be your “warm” contacts — the folks who you already have an “in” with. These should be the first and easiest contacts to make.
To connect with your second list – people not currently in your network – look for connections that your current network has these people. Your “warm” contacts may be able to make an introduction for you.
LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites can help you see who your contacts already know and might be able to introduce you to.
Who in your current network (step #2) has connections to outside your network (step #3)?
As a starting point, choose 3 people from your current network, and at least one person from outside your network who you’d like to meet with about a goal from step #1.
Think about what topic related to your goal would you like to discuss with them as well.
Try out these steps this week, and in the Comments below, I’d love to hear from you: which of these steps stood out to you, or surprised you? Tell us about your successful experiences with networking as a professional development tool as well!
Be sure to come back next week for the rest of the steps – including how to make an effective request for a meeting, what to say when you meet, and how to follow-up!