Putting the ‘working’ into networking

Business networking should be a way of life and not an emergency escape route when you’re looking for a new job – but why do so many people not realize this until it’s too late?

One relatively easy first step is to prepare a simple, authentic LinkedIn profile and start to use it. Therein lies the rub – this takes some intermittent maintenance work, keeping your profile up-to-date, sharing the occasional piece of business-related news, and following updates posted by your contacts.

It’s a good idea to start doing this before you really need it: I can usually tell when things are a bit wobbly in the economy – because out of the blue, I get LinkedIn requests from people I’d either given up for dead, or decided that they just don’t want to network with me.

Suddenly, blam, they’re all over me like a cheap suit – asking to connect, sometimes accompanied by friendly requests that usually start like this:

“Hi Simon, it’s been a while (in some cases, it’s actually been 10 years or more …), I just thought we should connect on LinkedIn. Oh and by the way I’m looking for a new job, are you hiring?”

Yes, it is hard to keep in touch with a circle of contacts on a regular basis, less than 10 percent of my 1000-plus LinkedIn contacts are active, and of these, only a handful truly manage to keep a dialog going. It’s also hellishly time-consuming and let’s face it, we’re all busy.

Nevertheless, a quick note to wish someone a happy birthday, or to congratulate them on their new job never hurts. Some people still find doing this uncomfortable, embarrassing or inauthentic, but I can honestly say that everyone appreciates having their achievements noticed by someone they respect!

Here are some networking golden rules that even the most introverted and cautious of us working in business should consider – since it goes with the territory:

  • Always accept a connection request if you’ve done business with that person, and (here’s the kicker) you can say something positive about them. For example, if you, as one of my LinkedIn contacts, said “Hey Simon, how do you know Fred?” then I’d be able to recount how we worked together. If I can’t, what is the point in connecting?
  • If you don’t know someone and they invite you to connect, consider sending a polite note back asking “jog my memory, have we met?” or similar. For me, LinkedIn isn’t about the numbers but the network, so I’m loath to dilute it with contacts I don’t know. I’ve connected to a couple of these people along the way, but this has been due to exceptional circumstances, and to be honest I shouldn’t have done. Talking of which, the third rule:
  • Keep your network in shape. From time to time, there is no harm in deleting contacts. If you are ever scratching your head and asking “how did I know Bill?” then it’s time to separate.
  • Just because your paths crossed the once, it is not always a good idea to connect immediately, as often you are bound to wonder, six months down the track, who they were and why you connected.
  • The one that applies to the “oh I need a network to find a new job” type: assuming your search is successful, try to keep up the networking and not let your connections wither and die –
  • And finally, references. If you write one for someone, suggest they might pass on the good deed and provide a reference for someone else, since mutual glowing references don’t cut it

 

By Simon Jones

 

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