When the word "networking" comes up, most people’s reactions are not

so different from those of Donna Mugavero’s MBA students in business

communications at the Rutgers Graduate School of Management. They’ve

heard that networking is something they’re supposed to do, but the

whole idea makes them uncomfortable. They may be shy, fear rejection,

or just not feel up to the task. Yet networking is essential, not only

to finding a job – Mugavero estimates that 70 to 80 percent of all

jobs come through networking – but also to advancing within a company.

Mugavero owns Branchburg-based company Shared Learning, a consulting

company that defines networking as "building and nurturing personal

and professional relationships to create a system of information,

contacts, and supports." She is also associated with VIA Data and

Marketing, a Somerset company (www.vianj.com). For her, the key to

networking is building mutually beneficial relationships. This is

contrary to the widespread – but erroneous – ideas expressed about it

by her students. They perceive networking as trying to get something

from somebody, and they tell her they hate to call someone and ask for

favors. She tells them that there is "always a give and take." Not

only are you part of someone else’s network, but they are part of

yours.

According to Mugavero, networking is typically used in four contexts –

on a personal level, among colleagues and superiors at a current job,

for making sales, and for job seeking.

To illustrate the personal side, Mugavero relates the story of a

friend whose daughter asked her for information about getting a

mortgage. Her mom soon got back to her with the help she needed, and

the daughter responded in surprise: "I can’t believe you just know all

this stuff." The mom’s wise return was "you know, honey, I don’t know

all this stuff, but I know a lot of women who know all this stuff." By

maintaining a web of personal contacts, her mom and many other

plugged-in networkers are usually able to find any help they need.

Internal networking within a company or organization is critical for a

person’s advancement. It involves meeting people in various levels and

departments in a personal way – what a lot of people call "shmoozing."

This includes having upper management know your name and face. In many

companies, says Mugavero, for promotions, special projects, raises,

and ratings, the more people who know you and know about you – even if

you met at a softball game – the better. They remember you at

evaluation time and can also provide information you may need to do

your job. But, she cautions, "it’s about more than being nice to

people; it’s about making sure to develop relationships that work both

ways."

Networking is also important for the business owner and salesperson,

and is invaluable for the job hunter.

Mugavero finds that, aside from networking naturals, many people don’t

realize the importance of networking. And even if they do, they often

either don’t know how to do it or don’t like to. For these people,

Mugavero has a few suggestions:

Start small. When you go to company or industry events, set a small,

doable goal. For example, "go to the event thinking, `I’ll get into a

conversation with one new person.’" That’s not too daunting, and

success is likely. Then at the next event, try for two, then maybe

three or four. Setting a small goal and succeeding, she observes,

"gives us the confidence to keep doing it."

Be knowledgeable about a few things. Many people tell Mugavero they

don’t know what to talk about. She suggests being knowledgeable about

current events, sports, popular movies, and books. "The more things

you can get into a conversation about, the more comfortable you are."

Become really good at questioning. "Collect questions that work for

you – things that you know are good conversation starters," she says,

suggesting that good questions are reusable. At a company picnic you

might ask people how long they’ve worked for the company or what

projects they have worked on. At a social event, you can ask how they

know the host. A good all-around question is: Do you have any

vacations planned? Who doesn’t like to talk about vacations?

"We like to talk about ourselves," says Mugavero. "You can appear to

be a great conversationalist if you have a lot of questions. You can

keep the conversation going and don’t have to talk a lot."

Create a 30-second introduction. Be prepared with a canned

introduction of what you’re looking for and what your skills are. If

you want help, know what you’re asking for and be able to express it

concisely. "You need to have this down pat, so that you don’t

stumble," she advises. With this information at your finger tips, you

can take advantage of any unexpected encounters that might lead to a

job.

Make your introduction distinctive. Mugavero tells of a friend who is

a financial planner and is always on the lookout for a client. At

meetings she uses the following opener to introduce herself: "I make

dreams happen. I work with clients to find out what their dreams are

and help them build financial plans to get them there." Suppose

another financial planner at the same meeting introduced herself with

"I’m a financial planner and I work for XYZ Company." Which person

would people tend to remember?

Have a business card. Even if you’re not working, it’s easy to have a

business card made at Staples, a print center, or on the `Net that

includes your name and contact information. "If someone is meeting a

lot of people and pulls a card out the next day, they’ll remember if

they have made a commitment," says Mugavero.

Follow up. Don’t wait until you really need to follow up. "If someone

has offered to pass along your information, to give you contacts, or

to chat about their industry, job, or company, following up in a

couple of days is important," she says. Don’t wait until you really

need it.

Plan informational interviews. "Networking when job seeking is not

only important for contacts," she says. If you are thinking about

moving to a different industry, "it is helpful to meet with someone in

that industry and find out how your skills will transfer."

When you do manage to schedule an informational interview, she has a

few words of advice: (1.) Be prepared. "If someone is giving you one

of their more precious things – their time – don’t go in shooting the

breeze," she says. Have specific questions ready. (2.) Stick to what

you came for. If you asked for an informational interview, then don’t

ask for a job or contacts. (3.) Be mindful of the time. If you asked

for a half hour, don’t go overtime. (4.) Send a thank-you. A quick

E-mail is fine.

12 Networking Tips: Liz Lynch

An engineer, a "numbers person," an online columnist, a radio talk

show host, and a business consultant with specialties in marketing and

organization, Liz Lynch is also the author of "102 Secrets of Smarter

Networking," a 20-page booklet designed to guide even the shyest in

making connections.

Lynch holds a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of

California at Berkeley and an M.B.A. from Stanford. Yet, she says, "I

knew I would never actually work in engineering. I knew I could never

just be in a lab or a roomful of computers. I wanted to be in the

business world."

After "doing corporate time" with a number of companies, including

Goldman Sachs and DoubleClick, she launched her New York City-based

consulting company, Networking Excellence

(www.networkingexcellence.com).

A pro networker, Lynch says that her "number one secret" is to start

networking before you need it. "At some point everyone will lose a

job, or lose a client, or just have the phone stop ringing," she says.

"Then you have an air of desperation about you and people can smell

that." It is much better, she stresses, to have your network in place

before you are desperate.

Networking, she says, is about making quality relationships. The kind

of relationships "that can help you land the big sale, find the

perfect job, or look like a hero take time to build."

Here are 12 of Lynch’s tips for networking:

Get comfortable with self promotion. There’s no getting around talking

about yourself in networking. Develop a clear message about what you

do and practice to help you build confidence.

Don’t expect to close on the first contact. It’s rare that you’ll meet

anyone who happens to know of work for you. Be prepared to work at

building the relationship so that you’re at the top of their minds

when they do hear of an opportunity.

Strive to make a good impression. Be gracious and polite in all of

your interactions. If you’re in a bad mood, either hide it or stay

home.

Create multiple levels of your introduction. Start with a compelling

one-sentence introduction that includes your name, company, who you

help, and with what problem. If asked for more information or if you

have more time, you can go to a deeper level of detail that describes

a typical situation, your solution, and the result.

Focus on how your clients benefit, not on what you do. Saying "I write

business plans" has less impact than saying "I help start-ups build a

compelling case for potential investors."

Say that you are looking for advice, not leads. Initial contacts are

more likely to be able to help you with your elevator pitch than to

connect you with a live prospect, but the point is to get in front of

as many people as possible.

Reconnect appropriately. It isn’t reasonable to call people you

haven’t spoken to in three years to ask for introductions to their

CEOs. Invite them to lunch first to catch up and discuss ways to help

each other’s business.

Join groups. Organized groups can put some structure around your

networking. Consider joining at least one or two to expose you to new

people and new ideas on a regular basis.

Don’t engage in debate. If you make a suggestion that isn’t met with

interest, don’t force it. Your goal is to start conversations to gauge

similar interests and determine if a follow-up meeting is warranted,

not to convert others to your point of view.

Ask a smart question of the speaker during a presentation. It will get

you noticed by those in the room and will give people a reason to

start a conversation with you.

Make other people the priority. Ask about their businesses before

launching into your introduction. Ask for a business card before

offering yours.

Keep your promises. If you have offered to send a brochure or a

contact name, do it immediately.

Finally, says Lynch, in the case of networking, practice makes

perfect. "Start with the right attitude and expectations and practice

as much as possible."

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