Bring your networking in for a check-up

Have you let your networking activities lapse as the year’s worn on? It happens, of course – between earning a living during work time, and living a life in your spare time, networking can look like one of those low-payoff activities to push down the list of priorities.

Now, there’s no such thing as career insurance, but your network is the next best thing. And like insurance, you have to have it in place before you actually need it.

To get you back on track, consider this brief refresher on best practices in networking:

  1. Indulge your curiosity. Some people will tell you almost anything about themselves. Others you have to pry open with a crowbar. No matter where they are on the spectrum, the only way to get any useful information is to ask questions – but make sure you really listen to the answers. And whether or not you’ve got a good memory, jot down some notes to keep on file – you never know when they might come in handy.
  2. Practice makes perfect. Every social interaction is a networking opportunity. Some are more formal than others – Chamber of Commerce mixers, continuing education dinners, industry association gatherings and so forth. But the supermarket checkout line is a great place to work on your skills. You’ve got a captive audience, after all. And once you start adding parties, and airports, and sporting events, and your kids’ school performances, you’ll see the opportunities piling up.
  3. It’s not all about you. You’d be surprised how often people need to be reminded of this fact. What your contacts tell you isn’t just data you can use to get them to help you. It’s data you can use to help them, and when you help them, they’ll be more inclined to help you. It’s the Golden Rule in action: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
  4. Business cards, and lots of them. American Express commercials used to promote their charge card by saying, “Don’t leave home without it.” That goes double for your business cards. And yet there’s always a few people at networking events who have run out of them, who forgot to put more in their wallet or purse before they rushed out to get to the event…and it’s always an awkward moment. Doesn’t it always feel like a missed opportunity – even if the other person lends you one of their business cards so you can scrawl your info on it? Don’t let it happen to you.

It’s a frequently quoted statistic – 94% of all jobs are filled through some form of networking. With those kinds of odds, having a network in place goes hand in hand with having a resume to send out. Start early and often, and you’ll be in a great position to get your next job – whether you’re actively looking for it, or if an unexpected layoff happens.

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