Networking: how to uncover the power of your connections

OldRolodex

Strategic networking is the foundation of your business development and your career growth. Your next gig will most likely come from a personal connection, especially as you advance up the ladder. Ditto your chances of promotion within a large corporation. Ditto those relationships with partners and clients that will spur your business growth. And ditto for the talent you will be hiring.

So you think you are no good at getting in touch? You haven’t spoken to some of your connections for years? Your rolodex is stil – er – a rolodex? No worries.  Here’s how to get going.

Start by making a list of the first ten people you can think of you could network with – the easy calls – the low hangers. Whether they are directly going to hire you, or just connected, friendly and approachable.  Then make a list of the people you would like to be in touch with…but it’s been years. Then make a list of the companies and people who you would really, really like to be talking to: your dream list.

Don’t go crazy. Maybe 10 names on each list is enough to get you off the dime. You have to start somewhere – and I want you to start reaching out – making lists is not the endgame here.

Let’s take a dive into that first list. How can they help you? Who do they know? Where do they work now? Where did they used to work?  Oh, and then there’s those people you haven’t been in touch with for years?  They will be delighted to hear from you.  They had wondered what was up and will be glad to be back in touch. You’ll be surprised.

Of course you have already figured out who you are interested in being connected to: which people at which firms; they are on your dream list. So you are now figuring out how those people you know can help you get to them. Have an agenda for yourself before you call them. Not a formal one, but a guide of talking points starting with a concise and powerful statement of your value and ambitions.  You want to be saying things like  “You used to work at NBC right? Do you know so-and-so?”  Or else you can say “I am really interested in the things that they are doing at such-and-such a company, do you know anybody there?”  What you are doing here is making it easier for them to help you. Don’t just say “Who should I talk to?” That is much too hard. Give them some suggestions to work against. When you lead them with concrete questions, this will trigger other ideas. “Oh if you are interested in NBC then maybe you should also talk to my friend at Netflix.” So you have steered them to where you want them.

The other part of these conversations is that you need to show you are actively interested in something that they know about.  How you do that is not just to spout about it, but to have a smart question for them to answer, so they will feel good that they can teach you something. Their good feeling will have been initiated by your smart question that was based on all the homework you did when you were creating your agenda.  Now they will be thinking “I like that woman. She asks smart questions and is really interested in listening.  And, come to think of it, I know who else would like her…”

And so it goes.  Be smart, do your homework, have a strong story and know what and who you are aiming at.  Aimless networking is counter productive – you will waste the connections. Knowing what you are after and making it easy for your contacts to help you – that is the secret of networking success.