Disclaimer: I am not a master networker. I am not a human resources person. I am not an expert. These are simply the activities in which I engage that have allowed me to build a strong network over the years. Take what you think will work for you, and leave what doesn’t.
As noted in the disclaimer, I am not a networking expert. But I have found that a few things have helped me to build and support a strong professional network over the years. Ordinarily I would think nothing of this, but some of these tips have helped my classmates over the last year. So, here they are for you too.
On building a network…
You may not realize it, but you already have a professional network. It consists of your current/former bosses and coworkers, your current/former professors, your current/former classmates, and can even include your friends.
If you want to reach out to someone new, tell them how you can help them, or add value. This requires that you do research, and not send out a canned email. Introduce yourself, highlight what you are good at and how it fits in with what they are doing, and ask them if there is anything you can do to help them. And be willing to do anything – connect them to other people, be a guest lecturer, consulting for free. The goal is to build a group of people who will keep their eye out for something for which you are a good fit, or they think you would be able to do. The goal is to stand out in other people’s minds.
To that end, take note of the people who stand out in your mind, for positive reasons. What did they do to stand out? How can you emulate that? What can you do to stand out to other people.
One of the side effects of my concussion in 2014 is memory impairment. Unless I had a strong emotional reaction to an event during a five month period of 2014, I don’t remember what happened. Longer term, it means that I have a much more difficult time remembering anything. But this isn’t about my memory issues or how I cope with them, it is about two particular tactics I use to overcome this issue, and how they are incredibly useful for networking.
The first is a spreadsheet. I’m sorry to say it, but if I’ve interacted with you over the last ten years, there is a high likelihood that you are on my spreadsheet. It includes names, contact information, professional information, and then notes. This allows me to sort the list to find particular people in case I can’t remember a name (Oh, remember so-and-so that I met at that alumni networking reception in the fall of 2015? What was their name? They were interested in health economics?), or by last contact date, etc. The notes section also includes information about your professional accomplishments (Congrats on the promotion, by the way), but also more personal information (How is your daughter Sophie doing? She’s what…three now?).
I also keep that information handy in my phone contact list. There is a section for notes on each contact card. Use it. That way you can look up people at the drop of the hat, and remember everything you need to. I learned this from one of my mother’s friends – my mother and her friend were having lunch one day, and the friend asked how my finals had gone the previous week. My mother was floored and asked how she remembered that. The friend said that my mother had mentioned it in a phone call three weeks prior, and she noted it in her contact card. Then, knowing she was having lunch with my mother, the friend pulled out her phone about thirty minutes before meeting and was able to pull up my mother’s contact information and refresh herself on what each of my sisters and I had been up to, and what the names of all of the grandchildren are. It was phenomenal and I’ve used this so much in the last two years. I highly recommend this.
Reaching out to people once is not enough, nor is remembering their name and their job title. You need to keep in touch with them. Spend 20 minutes a day reaching out to people in your network. Say hi, send them an article that made you think of them, make an introduction, or simply provide an update on your life. Always make sure to ask about their lives. But keep in touch. Remaining in contact with your network helps you to stay in the forefront of their mind, which is where you want to be in case any opportunities arise.
Time spent: 41 minutes