Networking. You know you should be doing more of it. But it can be a drag, and, without a clear goal in mind, it frequently gets added to the list of things that fall by the wayside. And yet, nearly 70%–80% of new roles are filled before they reach the job posting stage. When an executive refers you to a role at his or her company, the odds of your landing that job are nearly 90%.
This outcome can only come to fruition through strategic networking.
3 Tips on Building Your Professional Network
1. You’re already a master at it.
Delete the word “networking” from your mind. Consider every significant relationship in your life—your spouse or partner, your children, or lifelong friends. Think about what it was like getting to know these individuals at the beginning of your relationship: how attentive and generous you were towards them, how much time you spent trying to understand them better. When you meet someone you genuinely care about, you give them your best self.
When you’re building relationships, you don’t think about achieving an outcome. You stay in the moment and create something together. This is networking at its highest level, and you wouldn’t have achieved one-hundredth of what you have in life if you weren’t already very, very good at it.
Here are two strategies to develop those skills even further:
- The “As If” Technique: Imagine that the person you’re looking to connect with is someone you’ve known for years, like a trusted friend or confidante. Identify a specific person. Now tell your brain, Let’s communicate with this networking target as if we’re already friends. What’s the next step? If you approach the problem like a puzzle based on hypotheticals, it will become easier to brainstorm a solution. By turning the exercise into a game, you can unlock your creativity and associate networking with an activity you enjoy.
- The “Service First” Technique: Most of our hesitation to meet new people stems from ego. You might think to yourself, I’ll do something embarrassing, I’ll feel like a phony, etc. So stop making it about yourself. Instead, think of yourself as an advocate for the loved ones you serve. For me, it’s my wife and three children. Everything I do is in service to them. Every action I take is filtered through the lens of, “Does this positively improve their lot in life?” If it doesn’t, I won’t do it. If it does, I’ll overcome my fears to make it a reality. You can apply this perspective to networking to feel more motivated and confident.
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2. You can scale your strategy for a greater ROI.
You won’t always have to make a conscious effort to network. Eventually, it will come naturally. Even if you need to plan your strategy with painstaking detail now, you’ll eventually get to a point where you’re more comfortable and charismatic. Through practice, you’ll find out which of your stories get the best responses from listeners—and then you can use those interactions as cornerstones for making new contacts.
Retell stories to different audiences. Save your emails and use them as templates for the next time you encounter situations that are similar. Think about these conversation starters and emails as evergreen assets—they are valuable because they save time and alleviate the cognitive strain of forging a new relationship.
To scale your approach, you need to be able to listen, measure the results, and refine your strategy. It’s just as important to understand others as it is to express yourself. For example, if a CTO tells you about a problem they’ve encountered at work, think about how other businesses might be addressing the same dilemma. If you know how to resolve the issue, that’s a benefit you can offer to the CTO you already know and lots of other people who are in comparable situations. Leverage this point the next time you talk with someone new to establish a sense of reciprocity.
3. The rewards run both ways.
If you can use your professional network to solve a problem, that shows clout. No company wants to post an opening on a job board—especially not a senior position. Those listings only go public when there aren’t qualified referrals.
So if you connect with professionals who like and trust you, they’ll probably talk to you when their company has a job opening. When they provide a referral for you, it makes them look good because you’re an exceptional candidate. Through association, a professional network generates social capital for all its members.
Employee referrals have concrete benefits, too. Most companies offer incentive programs for referrals that usually include bonuses. Because referrals are such an effective hiring method, these bonuses are higher than ever today. One study shows about 69% of companies offer between $1,000–$5,000 for recommending a candidate who stays with the company for longer than 6 months.
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Visibility and respect are precious commodities that can only be gained through effective networking. When you’re building your professional network, think long-term. Add value however you can—for example, by offering to introduce a new associate to one of your contacts. Most importantly, whenever you have the opportunity, learn from other people and celebrate their journey.