ed muses upon

2011/02/22

Networking Best Practices

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I’m a big fan of best practices and a fan of networking, on which subjects I have blogged before and will almost certainly blog again in the future[i]. But until now, I haven’t thought to address the subject of networking best practices—which means I’m probably way overdue.

A lot of people hear the word “networking” and get a mental picture of that guy. You know the one I mean. He shows up at networking events and by the time you’re onto the second sentence of answering his question, you can see his head swivel as he figures out whom to talk with next. The one who’s all smiles and when you go to shake his hand, hands you his business card. The one that when he follows up afterwards, isn’t listening: he’s only broadcasting.

Yeah, I’m talking about that guy. The thing is, a lot of folks think that guy is the ultimate expression of “networking”. We might even, when saying this face to face with another person, use “air quotes” around the word networking.

And that’s incredibly sad, because that isn’t what networking has to be.

What networking really needs to be about is forging an authentic connection with another person[ii]. It requires being present and actually caring what someone else is saying. Because it’s only when you’re engaged in that exchange that you’ll see opportunities to connect on something more than a fleeting, superficial level.

So with that in mind, I’d like to share a few networking best practices. There are four elements to it but ultimately, it all boils down to one word: GIVE.

Generosity

Be open to offering assistance—whether emotional support, a connection or some missing information. It doesn’t cost you very much at all. While there are going to be occasions when there’s nothing you can offer to someone you’ve just met beyond perhaps a sympathetic ear, what that person will remember is that when you met, you tried to find ways to be of assistance. And that may be more powerful than anything else you might offer.

Interest

You can’t really connect with someone if you aren’t interested in what they are saying. How else are you going to perceive opportunities to be generous if you aren’t interested in seeing them? Our perceptions shape our reality. If we are not open to possibilities we will not see them, will not act on them and hence de facto, they don’t exist to us.

Value

When you say something, be sure you are adding value to the conversation or somehow addressing what the other person is saying. The fastest way to ensure that your first conversation with someone will also be your last is to fail to add value. People form a first impression within 30 seconds so make sure the one you leave is one of which you can be proud.

Empathize

Reverse the situation: if you were in that person’s situation, what would be the critical information or insight you could provide that you’d really appreciate? For example: if someone you’ve met mentions that they never sleep well on hotel beds, and that’s why they keep yawning, why not suggest a solution that’s worked for you? Maybe a sleep mask, or earplugs, or a white noise generator are just what he or she needs to conquer that problem. Wouldn’t you appreciate that suggestion if your positions were reversed? I know I would!

Sure, people talk about the importance of good first impressions, how failure to follow up after the meeting is the same as never having met someone in the first place, etc., but the truth is that if you genuinely are engaged and interested in an authentic connection with someone…you’ll make a good first impression and you’ll absolutely follow up afterwards. You will be generous, show interest, add value and empathize.

If you’re genuinely interested, you won’t be able to help yourself: you’ll GIVE.


[i] Yes, that’s a threat!

[ii] And if for some reason you haven’t already done so, please check out Keith Ferrazzi’s seminal Never Eat Alone, which may be the authoritative book on the subject.

2011/02/09

Staying Focused: LinkedIn, Your Second-Best Friend

linkedin

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Anyone who has heard me talk about it, and especially those who are connected with me on LinkedIn, know that I am big fan of LinkedIn. I’m a fan for several reasons, not the least of which is because I think it’s clear that LinkedIn is a job seeker’s second best friend.

Any job seeker’s best friend is him or her self: nobody will ever be better positioned to advocate for why you are the best candidate for an opportunity. But as far as tools go for propagating your personal brand and your unique value proposition as a candidate, you cannot beat LinkedIn. And I say this for several reasons.

Networking

We know that networking is how 70% of positions are filled, courtesy of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics JOLTS report. LinkedIn offers an incredible wealth of opportunities to network professionally, which empowers job seekers to get maximum return on investment (ROI) for staying in touch with professional contacts.

But far beyond merely keeping the lines of communication with existing connections, LinkedIn users can prospect new connections. In group discussions, job seekers can raise their visibility among thought leaders and prospective hiring managers. By adding value in this way, a job seeker can win mindshare from professional peers. I’ve received and sent invitations to connect from others solely on the basis of contributions to groups in which I am active.

Personal Branding

Although the networking opportunities in LinkedIn are of obvious relevance to a job seeker, the prospect of establishing and controlling one’s personal brand is less obvious—but potentially more important. A lot of people have been talking about personal branding in the past year: Google shows 7.8 million hits on that search phrase.

Personal branding is simple: it is a job seeker’s unique value proposition: a combination of experience, training, skills and aptitudes no one else has. Identifying your unique value proposition can be a challenge, but pays great dividends. It provides a theme for elevator speeches, LinkedIn summaries and any other content a candidate develops to raise his or her visibility. And the best way to leverage your unique value proposition on LinkedIn is to incorporate it in your LinkedIn headline.

The headline always appears with your name anytime your name appears on LinkedIn, a fantastic branding opportunity! I’ve seen a lot of profiles in the years I have used LinkedIn. Many job seekers have as their headline, “[industry/job function] professional”. But in a job market like this, the odds of someone having an identical headline are quite high—the very opposite of a unique value proposition.

Applications

LinkedIn offers a wealth of applications: pieces of software that each LinkedIn user can choose to incorporate into their profile. Several are of very broad utility: Box.net allows users to share electronic files with others connected with him or her. This is a superb place to house your market plan, so your connections are better empowered to act as advocates for you. This is a far better solution than sharing your résumé, which will almost necessarily be at odds with the experience listed in your profile if you are following the job search best practice of customizing your résumé for each position.

Other applications have a more targeted appeal: the SAP Community Bio and Creative Portfolio Display are only relevant to certain professionals—but for them, may be of considerable significance.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, investing the time to learn where LinkedIn empowers your job search most will help you stay focused on the big picture: landing your next opportunity.

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