While everyone from entrepreneurs to human resources professionals tout the importance of networking, it is often viewed as a necessary yet temporary activity – a salvo designed to quickly rectify job loss or lack of venture capital. However, effective networking stems from a genuine desire to help others; this desire remains constant and consistent, regardless of whether your career or company is in transition or firmly established. Master networkers build, maintain and promote their networks throughout their working lives. If you are interested in joining these ranks, here are six key tenets:
1. Be helpful
Reciprocity is the foundation of networking. When people in your network get stronger, so do you. Promote the individuals in your network actively; connect them to opportunities and facilitate introductions.
2. Keep in touch
Send a message to the members of your network at least twice a year. Inform your contacts of your recent successes, promotions and key wins. Also take the opportunity to applaud the wins achieved by mutual acquaintances.
3. Connect continually
Attend conferences, networking events, industry group meetings, social events and alumni organizations. Become a connector, rather than a business card collector.
Rapport and trust thrive in an environment of mutual interest and respect. Talk less about yourself, ask questions and listen actively. Remember a few points about each person that you meet and note them on the back of his or her business card or in your phone, along with the date you met.
5. Be authentic
You will connect and get along with some people more than others. That is okay. If you meet someone and do not authentically feel the desire to continue a networking relationship, heed that inner voice.
6. Follow up
Set aside some time after every meeting, every event and every coffee to follow up with a phone call or an email. Share an insightful article, case study or tweet with your contact.
Bottom line: effective networking requires some degree of work and authentic interest in the well-being of other human beings. It is not enough to stockpile a stack of business cards and access them only when you are unemployed. Nurture a reputation for being useful and helpful and your network will pay dividends, often when you least expect it.
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