Worklife – Networking works, becomes a way of life

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Working Without a Net?
Winter 2005 Issue
By Bill Clayton / Career Focus

Folks commonly think of networking as a job-hunting tool, and it is, indeed, one of the very best. According to the Wall Street Journal, 94 percent of those who’ve just found jobs said that networking was their primary search tool.

However, networking isn’t just for job hunting. It’s a natural way to share information such as the name of a good hairdresser, handyman, doctor or lawyer – or even a good jar of chunky peanut butter.

Rick Frishman, co-author of the recently released Networking Magic, says that the three most important words in networking are “giving, giving, giving.”

Imagine a scenario like this: A young woman creates a cookie recipe and gives it to a friend. The friend loves the recipe and, knowing the young woman plays tennis, gives her a racquet that’s as good as new but has been in a closet for years. The young woman eventually passes the racquet to her coworker, who gives the racquet to her son. When the son learns that the young woman loves to play tennis, they meet for a game.

In time, he discovers that she also loves him and they marry and live happily ever after – all because the young woman had a network of friends and was generous enough to share her recipe for cookies.

This is a perfect example of networking, which is the art and practice of giving to others – without the thought of personal gain – and eventually reaping the rewards of being benevolent.

“The more you give,” Frishman says, “The more you get back – you get it back ten-fold.”

Of course, sharing requires communication, a social activity that can be as much fun as it is profitable – as long as you remember some guidelines that will improve your chances of success.

Networking rules of thumb

There is no handbook for networking, but there are some helpful guidelines.

Find the best. The best people lead to the best relationships, but it often takes patience to find them. Google the folks you intend to contact. It’s always easier to talk to someone about the weather if you know what climate they live in.

Be yourself. The great philosopher Popeye the Sailor once said, “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” Don’t try to be impressive. Chances are you’ll do just fine by being yourself.

Tell it like it is. Jim Frenza, retired president and CEO of the Hands-On Museum in Ann Arbor, did a lot of elbow-rubbing during his career. His advice is simple: “To network effectively,” he says, “tell the truth and learn how to listen well.”

Keep at it. Networking isn’t a one-time event. It’s a way of life. Do it systematically and regularly, even when you’re not looking for a job.

Say thanks. After any encounter, follow up. Say thank you – always. A letter or phone call has always been the recommendation. But this is a new age, so e-mail is fine. In fact, many people prefer it.

Be equipped. If you’re networking for a job, carry business cards, a pen and a small pad of paper to write on. Make notes right on the backs of the business cards you collect.

Keep track of contacts. Know where, when and why you’ve sent mail and e-mail, and made phone calls. Knowing where you’ve thrown your darts is the best first step in retrieving them successfully.

Cultivate new relationships. Keep an eye out for opportunities to add new faces to your network. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know but would like to. Send a note of congratulations to someone whose big promotion appeared in the newspaper. All old friends were new friends at one time.
Where the networks are

There are countless networks waiting for you to find them. But you’re already part of more networks than you might imagine.

Personal networks: What might be your most valuable network – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends – consists of all the folks who will say they’re glad to see you, even when they aren’t.

Be nice to them. You just might meet your next best friend or boss at an uncle’s barbecue.

Social networks: Those folks you spend time with at parties, at the gym, on the hiking trail, at the museum. They’re living proof that networking can and should be fun.

Professional networks: Your current and former coworkers, bosses, clients and friends in professional associations are a fertile group for job-hunters. Don’t ever forget that old adage – “Be nice to the people you meet on the way up. You just might meet them again on your way down.”

Academic networks: Professors, lecturers, and current and former classmates can be a wonderful network and source of good contacts with professionals in the field of your choice.

A last word about networking

“Somewhere along the line networking got a bad reputation,” says Frishman. “Going to meetings. Collecting business cards. Manipulating people to give you things. But that’s not networking. Networking is giving. It’s all about helping the people you know.

“The time to start networking is in kindergarten,” Frishman says. “I ran across a guy who ended up getting a job from a girl he knew in second grade.

It works.

And it’s fun. That might sound corny, but it’s true – I’ve seen it happen over and over in doing research for my book – if you have a good time taking care of the people in your networks, then good things will happen for you. Listen to them. Talk to them.”