Everybody talks about networking. It is no coincidence that the dictionary definition of the word can be either a system of interconnected computers or a supportive collection of individuals or groups with a common interest. The analogy of computer networking and people networking is not a coincidence since both involve the effective communication of information. The exact definition of this as a business function is sometimes lost because it is taken for granted, but the marketing of a company’s products or the case of individuals marketing themselves for a new job requires the same degree of effort. Some often overlooked aspects of networking should be brought to the forefront of thinking in order to meet the definition of “effective communication.”
- Ongoing – There is no beginning or end to building a network. Whether it is an online or face-to-face contact, these happen without planning. Everyone you have ever met is a network contact. Often a job seeker is told to “start building a network” when actually the need is not to start, but to cultivate an existing network. There is a different mindset when there is an immediate need for a functioning network. Then added emphasis is given to expanding the contact base to achieve results. We also have short memories, so it is human nature to forget about consciously expanding a personal network when the immediate need is gone. We need to visualize a network fuel gauge that keeps us aware when the tank is low so that we can refill the contact base.
- Outgoing – It is often overlooked that a true network requires all parties to participate. It is not networking to solicit assistance from contacts without giving something in return. That is called begging or panhandling. The best way to cultivate a functional network is to give more than you receive. This is not simply a quid pro quo arrangement where you invest your energy and expect an equal return. A true network of outgoing partners consists of willing generosity without expectation of a return. Of course, if all partners are of this mindset, the reciprocity happens automatically and it has nothing to do with introverted or extroverted personalities.
- Equalizing – The true networking experience crosses social barriers. This is a major problem that is almost never mentioned when encouraging a job seeker to network. If the list of contacts in an interpersonal network is one dimensional or shallow, it will not function effectively. Diversity of thought gives power to the network and will cross lines of gender, race, ethnicity, age, socio-economic or power status. If you examine your network and everyone in it is just like you, then you will only get shallow results from working within that network. Blue collar workers and their white collar contacts can benefit from communicating, contributing and assisting each other. “Ongoing” and “outgoing” requires consciously looking beyond the existing list of network contacts and actively cultivating new directions.
Maintaining an effective professional network requires work. It means researching opportunities and constantly reaching out to others. It begins with understanding how to build networks and then educating yourself and others on often overlooked factors.
For your Bookshelf:
Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn: An Unofficial, Step-by-Step Guide to Creating & Implementing Your LinkedIn Brand – Social Networking in a Web 2.0 World by Neal Schaffer