In these tough economic times, getting a job often depends on the strength of your professional network. Working that network regularly is just as essential as managing your career — even when you’re employed.
“It is very tempting in these understaffed times to do the work at hand simply to get through the day,” says Marcia Finberg, a healthcare marketer and administrator in the Phoenix area for more than 20 years. “Unless you nurture your network, you can be caught short if, say, your hospital goes into red ink and heads roll.”
The bottom line: If you lose your job tomorrow, you want to be in a position where you have a reliable professional network that can help you back on feet. Study your network and ask this question: Do I have enough contacts to help me accomplish that?
If the answer is “no,” then it’s time for some changes.
Strategies for strengthening your network
Get a clear idea of who you want in your network. “Begin by writing a list of words and phrases that would describe the people you want to meet, get to know and with whom you want to build positive and helpful professional relationships,” says consultant Patti DeNucci, author of “The Intentional Networker: Attracting Powerful Relationships, Referrals and Results in Business.” She says, “Reflect on yourself and be sure you are also exuding those characteristics. You want to be someone that others want to know as well. Solid networks are built on mutual trust, respect and helpfulness.”
Position yourself as a resource to others. “Helping others is one way to get into good graces with them,” says Suzanne Garber, chief networking officer for International SOS, an international healthcare, medical and security assistance company. “Share your expertise and knowledge in your particular area. Connect people with others in your network to help advance their business. Take the focus off of you and put it onto others. You know that guy “Bob” who only calls because he wants something and the feeling of dread that ensues? Don’t be ‘Bob.’ You want people to be happy when you walk into a room, not when you exit.”
Be organized. Consider developing a good electronic filing system for your contacts. “Don’t rely on sticky notes and handwritten chicken scratch in various notebooks to help you remember who you met when and where,” says Garber. “Invest in some simple technology like CogniCard or Scan2Contacts to help you compile the business cards and contact information into an organized space that’s easy to use, compartmentalize and share. Then keep in touch with your contacts via LinkedIn, Twitter and other forms of social media. Networking is an all-season sport where there is no championship playoff.”
Jack Smith, president of Sanford Rose Associates, an executive recruiting firm in Milwaukee, suggests categorizing contacts in order of importance to your career aims. As your contacts balloon into hundreds or even thousands, he says, they become harder to manage. You could have contact with those on the A list more frequently than those on the B or C lists, he says.
“If you haven’t contacted them over time, they really aren’t contacts,” he says.
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