3 Rs of Networking

If you have ever asked for a referral, a recommendation, or a review then you know and have used the three "R's" of networking.

Networking has a bad connotation for a lot of people. They envision the stereotypical used car sales person handing out business cards and telling people what a great deal they can make for them. In reality, most of us already network; we just call it something else. Have you ever asked someone for a referral to a dentist? How about a recommendation on a good restaurant? Maybe you asked a friend what they thought of a movie you wanted to see.

Now, the trick is to turn such casual contacts and easy discussions toward your career goals. If you can ask for a referral to a business colleague, a recommendation for a job opening, or a review of an organization your career networking will take off. Before assuming too much, however, let's make sure that we understand what networking really is and how and when to do it.

Networking is:

  • An opportunity to develop relationships and talk with people about the work they do and/or to learn about how best to enter a career field and/or how to move around in an organization
  • A focused effort to gain information and contacts in an organization or industry
  • A situation where information helpful to both parties is exchanged.

How to Network

The good news is that there is no one right way to network. Each of us brings our own personality and style into a networking encounter and we create what works for us. For example, extraverts may love entering a room of strangers and may shake hands with as many people as they possibly can. This approach usually sends shudders up the spines of more introverted people. One on one conversations or talking in small groups may have more appeal to them.

A simple approach to remember when beginning to network is to get the other person to talk about him/herself. Networking is all about information gathering. So whether you attend a party, meet someone in an elevator, or go to a professional association meeting, ask people about themselves. Ask them what they do, what they like about their work, how they got started in it, and so on. Once you get them talking, you will be surprised at how much easier it becomes for you to share information about yourself.

Prepare a 30 or 60 second "commercial" with talking points about your own career, including your goals and questions you have about how to achieve them. Then when you find yourself with an opportunity to talk with someone about her/his career and the conversation switches back to you, you will be ready to talk.

Remember that good networkers give as much as they get. This means that you look for ways to help others obtain the information they need to assist them in their career. As you learn about the skills and competencies necessary for positions you might want to apply for in the future, you should share the same with others. Finding ways to open doors is the key to successful networking and that happens when people want to help you. And people will want to help you if they know that you are willing to help them.

When to Network

Anytime and anywhere. Whether you are standing in line at the post office or cafeteria or attending a professional conference, every time you meet someone you can network. It is a mistake to think that networking is only necessary when you are looking for a job. If you cultivate relationships all along, it will make looking for a job much easier. One very successful networker loves to talk with people on airplanes. On one trip he came back with an HR manager's business card. The manager worked at a local company he had always been interested in. At that moment he didn't need a job but six months later he was laid off. With marketable and updated skills and this networking contact, he was able to get a new job almost immediately.

So never stop networking, even when you believe you are happy and secure in your position- network for professional development and to build relationships. Keep on the lookout for opportunities to talk with someone who has made a career change or has successfully moved into a new position. Learn what resources were helpful to them and talk to people about your career ideas.

Special Considerations

Is it ok to ask for a job?
A networking encounter is not really about getting a job right away. It is about sharing information. You need to build the relationship first. Asking about a job puts unexpected stress on the contact. If the contact doesn't know about an opening or isn't able to help right then, you may have lost the contact. However, if your networking contact sees the relationship as something longer term, then the future may find you discussing actual openings.
What if I don't know anyone "important" who does what I want to do?
Start with people you know and make them aware of the kind of information or help you are seeking. Then ask if they know anyone whom you might contact. Useful ideas and information come from all levels of an organization and from many types of contacts. You may use the Internet to identify people and places to aid your networking. Professional and trade associations are good places to start.
Should I use social media to network?
Yes. Social media sites, especially LinkedIn, serve as a rich resource for networking, career management, and connecting with colleagues. LinkedIn, founded on the principle of six degrees of separation, allows you to connect to other people you know and individuals that you gain introductions to through other LinkedIn members.

Remember, networking isn't just about "the now," it is about "the future." Focus on building relationships and find ways to give to others and you will soon find that you will receive all the referrals, recommendations, and reviews that you need for a successful career.