Cultivating Your Network

April 19th, 2011

Spring is the time for planting seeds.

In career management, this sowing is often the metaphor for networking.  Many networking efforts fail to bear fruit despite assiduous research, contact development and many, many cups of coffee.

As with gardening, creating and sustaining a flourishing contact base that you can nurture and that nurtures you, takes planning, thought and integrity.There are four approaches that are often mixed.  To assure that your efforts bear fruit, your intentions and requests need clarity and purpose.

Information gathering and sharing—where you are truly getting input and feedback on your career ideas, finding out who is doing interesting things, building relationships built on common interests, offering help to others and making connections. When asking for information, make sure you are specific and well prepared.  Information gathering cannot be a subterfuge for hoping you contact will hire you.

Reality Testing/Marketing plan—where you have a clear sense of the kinds of functions/industries/geographies you want to pursue and you are confirming and adding to this initiative with specific information about organizations and situations of interest.  Your intention here is to expand your self-marketing plan,get input on your resume or LinkedIn profile, better understand points of entry, gain knowledge and perspective that will inform your campaign for a new position or role.

Opportunistic Introductions– where you meet with people who are either in a position to hire or can lead you to those who can. You are meeting regardless of whether there is a currently available “job” to apply for.  The purpose of the meeting is to introduce yourself in the event that something comes up, or refresh a contact’s knowledge of your talents and goals since your last discussion.  It is also a good follow up to the previous two categories. Use this technique to expand with “now that you know what I can do and what I am looking for, I’d appreciate your directing me to others who might think of others I can introduce myself to”.  Often that request does not even have to be made as the conversation leads naturally to an introduction or idea.

Opportunity Creation (accessing the hidden job market)– Beware of the Bait and Switch mentality in which you say you want to gather information or get advice but really hope that the contact has a job for you.  If you really are sourcing for a position, then prepare for a “sales” meeting in which you have a really good sense (gathered from the research above) that your background, interests and skills dovetail with the potential employer’s immediate, current and future needs.

A model for making  a compelling pitch is to articulate your experience related to the 4M’s:

Marketing: how can you increase sales, edge out the competition, expand visibility and customers for the product or service?

Management: how can you increase productivity, stem waste, lead others to gain results?

Money: how can you make it or save it?

Manpower: how can you attract, develop, lead, collaborate with or improve people resources?

The Fertile Try/Buy:  The closer your pitch is to the employer’s burning platform, the more likely a fit will be uncovered.  Sometimes these conversations spark either a creation of a position or a re-organization based on know needs or problems that have festered.  Be open to exploring project work if your digging reveals an unmet set of needs but no immediate plan to fill a position.  Increasingly, projects delivered by non-employees in response to pent up demands that are going un-addressed, is the shoe in to a new job.

Happy Planting!

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