Robert Hosking explores the social skills we all need

Networking as a business concept has been around for some time, but many professionals have a narrow view of what it means. They may consider it to be almost exclusively a job search strategy. That is, you inform as many people as you can about the kind of job you’re looking for in the hope that they — or someone in their network — will hear of an opportunity and let you know. If you’re lucky, your contacts will also help you get your foot in the door.

There’s no question that networking can be a productive way to find a job, but it is also valuable as a career development strategy. Savvy administrative professionals use networking as a means of pushing their careers to the next level.

Networking is simply the process of making connections with others. It involves the exchange of information, resources, support and access in a way that is mutually beneficial and career-enhancing. As many successful people know, it’s not unusual to gain access to an opportunity by way of “someone who knows someone who knows someone”.

Whatever your specific reason for networking, your success will hinge on your ability to derive maximum benefit from your interactions with others while offering them value as well. To do so, you’ll need to observe some of these finer points of networking etiquette — whether your activities are online or in person:

1 Make your purpose clear

When it comes to networking, your approach is everything. You need to be focused, disciplined and, most of all, sincere when you’re asking for help from your contacts. It’s also important to make a reasonable request that can be satisfied without an excessive amount of time and effort on their part.

2 Avoid networking only out of necessity

Networking should be a continuous process, not something you do only when you need something. Many career coaches believe so strongly in this principle that they urge their clients to set specific networking goals — say, three or four new contacts a month. The rationale behind this advice is that the more contacts you develop and cultivate, the easier it will be to get the kind of assistance you need when you need it.

After you’ve established a relationship, don’t allow the time and effort it took to make the connection go to waste by losing touch. If you’re not periodically meeting with or talking to individuals in your network through the normal course of business activities or involvement with professional associations, give them a call or send an email to say hello, share an interesting business development or update them on your career progress.

3 Don’t be pushy

Whatever you do, don’t be too aggressive in your networking relationships. Avoid making requests of your contacts that seem more like demands or assuming that just because someone you know works in a specific organisation or industry that they can help you.

And don’t take advantage of a relationship. For instance, just because you met the director of an investment firm at a networking event and talked with him briefly, it would be presumptuous to use his name in a cover letter to his employer without first clearing it with him.

Finally, don’t be resentful if someone in your network can’t help you out. Networking is designed to be a courteous interaction, not a confrontational one.

4 Be prepared

If someone you know has referred you to an acquaintance of theirs — perhaps for an informational interview or to learn more about a prospective job — prepare yourself for the meeting and conduct yourself in a professional manner. If your original contact is told that a conversation with you was unpleasant or a waste of time, you may not be given a second chance to make a good impression.

5 Know the rules of online networking

Because it’s so easy to get started with networking tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook, many job seekers use them haphazardly. Even though online networking sites can seem like casual environments, when introducing yourself, be concise and polite. Personalise your invitation requests to remind people of how you know them and make sure your profile is complete so it’s not a guessing game for others when connecting with you. If you’d like an introduction to someone in a contact’s network, make sure to ask politely and explain why you hope to meet the other person.

In general, prioritise quality over quantity. Choose wisely when connecting online and don’t send invites to others merely to make your network larger. Your network is only as strong as its weakest connection. Also remember that if you’re using a site like Facebook for professional purposes, you may want to adjust your privacy settings to ensure business contacts can’t view content that makes you appear unprofessional.

6 Give something back

The more you’re willing to give in your networking efforts, the more you’re likely to receive when you need assistance. But giving involves more than simply responding when people come to you with requests. It also means being alert to ways in which you can be of help, even when people haven’t specifically asked for it.

Look for opportunities to pass on information that may be of interest to different individuals in your network. This could include forwarding a relevant article or an invitation to an event you feel they may want to attend. Another way to be a generous networker is by offering an alternative if you’re unable to fulfill a request or answer a question.

7 Close the loop

If someone gives you a lead, be sure to pursue it and let your contacts know the outcome. Likewise, if you’ve given a networker the name of someone to call, follow up with your contact to let him or her know to expect a call. You might also check back with the person you assisted to see if your contact was helpful and whether he or she needs any additional guidance.

8 Show appreciation

Always let your network of contacts know that you value their help. Call or send a card or email to thank those who have done you a favour. And don’t forget to extend a standing offer to return the favour. This shows that you’re not just using the relationship to get ahead but you’re interested in building a long-term, mutually beneficial association.

More than anything, the key to networking success is simply to be a worthy participant in the process. By helping others as you hope they would help you, networking can yield career rewards for everyone involved.

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Robert Hosking is executive director of the administrative and customer support practice at Robert Half, where he leads operations for nearly 300 practice locations worldwide. With close to 30 years of experience in the staffing industry, he has extensive ... (Read More)

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