Five Time-Saving Networking Strategies
Part of the aversion that many people have to networking is how labor-intensive it can be. And while it’s true that keeping up with a number of people online and in person takes time, it’s still the best way to land a job when you need it and to manage your career prospects for the long term!
A reminder: Networking isn’t just about schmoozing or working the cocktail circuit (though that’s part of it). It’s basically reaching out to and then staying in touch with a variety of people who share some of your interests and have your interests at heart. It’s not just about job seeking, but you certainly want to tap your network when you are looking for a job.
With that in mind, here are five tips for making networking a less time-consuming and overwhelming process:
*Join groups, but only a few and those that make sense for you. It’s necessary to get out from behind your computer and to make new contacts face to face, and groups are an efficient and effective way to do this. Yet when stepping up their networking efforts, people often waste time by attending events at a lot of groups with “meeting people” in mind. They would do better to target their efforts to groups they are interested in — not just for networking but whose causes and purposes they support and enjoy. Career experts suggest joining a maximum of three groups for networking purposes, including an affinity group (an alumni association, for example), a professional group related to your interests and a group related to something you’re passionate about personally. Choose one to which you’d really like to devote some time, and consider getting involved in its leadership.
*Develop a networking system and database. One can cut down the time they spend on networking by simply organizing their efforts. First, think about when in the work day and work week makes sense for you to spend time networking — and then set aside a half hour or an hour each day (and perhaps a chunk of time on weekends) for emailing contacts, making calls or responding to requests. Once you get in the habit of efficiently networking, you will spin your wheels much less, and the “must respond to” email stack will lessen. Also, develop an organized database of contacts. The system doesn’t have to be elaborate, though it can be. (A career coach I know has an Excel spreadsheet devoted to networking where she logs in every significant contact she has with someone and the date, and also logs in to whom she refers people, and then cross-references them. It’s a great system for her but probably not for everyone.) Start by listing somewhere your contacts — use the contacts in your mobile phone, I-Phone, BlackBerry or Outlook list as base — and then make a point of noting when you’ve been in touch. LinkedIn especially and Facebook to a lesser degree also provide a way to track your contacts and connections.
*Regular contact is key. You’ll save a lot of time if you don’t have fits and starts in networking. If you keep in touch regularly with important people in your network, you’ll find out about jobs and make important connections on a regular basis. That way, when you need a job you won’t be starting anew. For women (sorry, guys, but shoe-shopping remains a female sport) it’s like how you never find that perfect pair of shoes when you need them for an important event, but if you stop by DSW or Nordstrom’s on a regular basis and just try on a few things, you’ll always have boffo shoes. Some of these contacts can be pretty cursory — a quick note or commenting on something on their Facebook page for instance — but with others you’ll want to invest time regularly in a longer phone call, coffee or lunch.
*Think of where your networking time will pay off most. I’ve said it before but will repeat it: networking with the well-networked gives you the best chance of expanding your contacts in a meaningful way. Good networkers obviously enjoy meeting folks and so are more likely to include you among their contacts, and to introduce you to others. And do the math: the well-networked have more people than ordinary folks with whom they’re in touch, and more contacts to pass along to you if you make a good connection with them. Make your networking time pay dividends by seeking out those who know a lot of people and are likely to want to help you.
*Target your social networking efforts. Though social networking is for fun as well as contacts, you need to develop a specific strategy for using such sites as a networking tool. LinkedIn is great for this as it is set up as a business tool — and its professional groups are a smart way to make good use of your social networking time. Facebook can be useful for networking but you need to work it for this purpose; hanging out playing Mafia Wars isn’t likely to land you a job. And watch how much time you spend here — this is networking but just one form of it, and it’s no substitute for meeting people and having conversations in person.