5 Tips for Better Networking

When finding your next big opportunity, networking is key.  Most of us have increased confidence when we are interviewing or hiring someone who worked with a friend or colleague and received glowing recommendations. A lot of hiring managers (even at the CEO level) will take a crack at recruiting someone to their team before they engage internal Talent Acquisition / Human Resources or an external search firm. As an executive search firm ourselves, we very much value the thoughts of our contacts on referrals.

Articles come out on a weekly basis discussing “How to network better” or “How not to make networking mistakes.”  Networking is a funny thing. Most of the people who would call themselves “natural networkers” are some of the worst networkers and time wasters out there. And some people who have really dry personalities and who don’t like talking to a lot of people at parties are some of the most effective networkers out there. The key is to keep in touch with people on some level, not just when you are in the market looking for something. Effective networking takes time, and it takes helpfulness – both helping others and helping others to help you.

1. Help others: Attempt to respond to emails from people who seek to network with you, and in return, they will then be more likely to respond to your outreach when you need them.  If someone with an impressive resume emails you asking about opportunities at your company, pass it along or to someone you know who could provide a connection.  He or she may land in a new spot within 3 to 6 months, and can be your advocate down the line.

2. Help others help you. When leaning on your network in search of a new opportunity,  make it as easy as possible for them. Know what you want, and be specific – both with what it is you want and where you make sense. Mention specific companies when possible. For example, “I have deep experience in strategy consulting and prior experience in the retail industry. I am targeting a Director or VP of Strategy (or Merchandising Strategy) role with a retailer.  Target companies include X, Y, and Z.”

3. Don’t appear desperate – people don’t want to be affiliated with desperate people.

4. Don’t fall off the map. People tend to update their LinkedIn profile while they are looking for a new role (like when a private company gears up on press releases before going public), but then they don’t update it when they land in their new spot. As you take on new roles or succeed in key projects, or as you are quoted in trade rags and things like that, share the information with your network (in a down-to-earth fashion) so that they associate you with success and action.

5. Create a personal Board of Directors: And now for the individuals who will likely be the most important in your network. As early as possible, start assembling an informal “board” of career advisers who will help guide and mentor you throughout your career beyond an individual move.  Your board will push you to make more of yourself and will scold you when you start to slip. As with general networking, by keeping your board up to date on where you are with your career, they will be able to share valuable perspective with you.  One of them may even end up hiring you down the line.

In assembling your board, make sure you choose wisely, as these will be the people who keep you on track throughout your career.  Your board should be more than one person, and not just a group of “yes men.”  As an Engagement Manager at a consulting firm, whose opinion would you rather have when deciding on a job offer?  Another Engagement Manager who spent two years at an investment bank before business school, or someone who left your firm, went corporate in a strategy role, and is currently a President of a business unit somewhere? Pick people who have been highly successful and who are willing to devote time to you, and focus on getting the hot shots into your network now, before they take off and become CEOs and are harder to approach.

Most importantly, stay engaged, reciprocate, and create a genuine, even if infrequent, connection with members of your network.

Any other tips you think we should include? E-mail Happy networking!