Recently, someone in my network sent an email asking if I could meet him for coffee. Prior to this email, the last time we communicated was about seven years ago when he was laid off and looking for work. Now he is in the same spot. This behaviour is not unusual. Many people do not feel the urge to touch base with their network until they are in need of help. They do not treat their network as a top priority, but leadership expert Harvey McKay advises that we should dig our well before we are thirsty. His book is aptly titled “Dig Your Well Before You Are Thirsty.”
One reason it is important to periodically touch base with your network is that you never know when and from where an opportunity may come. Second, employers are increasingly relying on their own employees to find new hires, so if you are in job search mode and is an active networker you will most likely be on someone’s radar for new opportunities.
As much as networking is an important task, it sometimes has a negative connotation. The term sometimes conjures up images of back-slapping, forced smiles, awkward conversations or brown-nosing, and because of these negative undertones, many people shy away from becoming actively engaged in the process. Scott Ginsberg, author of Hello, My Name is Scott describes networking as “…the development and maintenance of mutually valuable relationships. It’s not schmoozing; it’s not just handing out business cards, selling, marketing or small talk. Those activities are part of networking, but unfortunately, many people’s misunderstanding of the term causes them to network ineffectively.”
Networking is a long term strategy that involves work and takes time. Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International said that there’s a reason “networking is not called ‘net-sit’ or ‘net-eat’ but ‘net-work’.” Whether you are a job seeker or an entrepeneur, you need to create a networking plan and be prepared to invest a lot of time in building and nurturing your network. Business consultant, Nikolai Tillisch, who has used LinkedIn to build his business, says, “To conduct business successfully, I had to invest time on the ground to understand and build relationships.”
Networking can lead to job opportunities. It is well known that more than 80% of job opportunities are found through networking. Why? It’s easier and cheaper, and relies on trust. Imagine someone in your network trusting you enough to recommend you for a job opportunity! Having said that, I am noticing a trend these days that some people are twinning their LinkedIn invitations with a request for help in finding a job. That’s not a good strategy if you would like to build mutually beneficial relationships. Get to know your contact and give them enough time to get to know you before asking for favours.
Networking is a two-way street. One of my LinkedIn contacts sent me a magazine article in which I was quoted. Soon after, he mailed me several copies of the magazine which was published in his city. Feeling honoured by this gesture, and without giving him advanced notice, I mailed him a copy of my book, No Canadian Experience, Eh? I told him that if he hadn’t sent the information to me I wouldn’t have remembered I was interviewed for the article. We began discussing the value of networking, and he said, “I had to be forced into this idea of networking. I had a stint as a trade diplomat and was exposed to some training, but I did not get the point, mainly because I used to be one of those stiff solicitor types, but I learned quickly. Now, I consider myself a connector (or people collector) – deciding that I like somebody, building a relationship based on mutual regard for work, and holding on to that relationship forever.”
Networking is still going to be awkward for many of us, but if viewed through the lens of relationship building, it’s easier to embrace and the rewards can be long lasting. So, in the spirit of networking, “How can I help you today?”