Early on in life I developed an affinity for networking. For those reading this that know me, it is because I genuinely love meeting new people and learning about their life experiences. I often find myself as the first to arrive and the last to depart. I make an effort to remember everything a person says and what’s important to them. I have learned many valuable life lessons from a career of networking interactions.
Professional networking is making a contact and building relationships from these contacts that will possibly lead to a life-long friendship, a business opportunity or potential career opportunities that may not otherwise present themselves. A well planned and consistently applied approach to networking can lead to connections that will provide you with advice, support, referrals, leads and market intelligence that will enhance your career in ways that just doing your job will not.
Let’s begin by understanding the definition of networking as a whole and by syllables. By definition, networking is “The action of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional social contacts.” By syllable, networking or net and working mean: Net – An entrapping device or situation. Work – An activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
Now, a few essentials of net”WORK”ing and always remember it is work. You are there to achieve a purpose or a result.
1. Be sincere – Early on, I was enrolled in a Dale Carnegie class and learned a life lesson, not a professional success attribute. This can be found in Dale Carnegie’s Little Golden Book, “Be genuinely interested in others.” I’m not telling you what some of those sales leaders teach their sales teams, “fake it until you make it.” I’m telling you to learn how to be a GREAT person. If you’re genuinely interested in other people, it will be noticed, and others will be more than happy to help you when you need it most. If you’re not, they will know.
2. Be a giver – Face it, we’ve all met individuals through networking that instantly upon meeting, you get that feeling! What feeling? Your talking to someone that has one thought, WIIFM! What’s in it for me? Do they care about what you are saying? Do they ask how they can help you after hearing who you are before jumping right into their pitch? Do they seem distracted during your conversation? I’m a firm believer that everything will come around at some point. Have I had the instances where it hasn’t? Absolutely. Did I do the right thing and provide someone with help when needed? YES! It’s human nature to help and it will not be forgotten. Additionally, it feels good to help someone.
3. Be engaged – focus on who you are talking to. Some of the best and simplest advice I received early in my career was, “Be where your feet are.” Advice that will withstand the test of time both personally and professionally. Minimize your distractions during conversations. Make eye contact!
4. Have a plan – As with anything in life, a plan will breed you more efficiency and success in your networking efforts. Know the audience of each event. Be prepared – do your research. However, do not make assumptions about who a connection is and the value of engaging in a conversation with them may or may not bring. Sometimes the unexpected surprises you. Back to number one, people like working with like-able and sincere people.
Have you ever been forced to go to an event by your company? You walk through registration get your name-tag and head for the corner of the room. You’re not alone! Networking events although not always fun are an absolute necessity for career development at all levels. Most importantly, remember it is work.
Below are some takeaways from networking that you may not currently think about or seek when actively networking. Call it a different perspective! A consistently applied approach to networking will bring more to you than a business transaction you seek.
1. Building Trusted Relationships
- Making Friends – 1st and foremost
- Identifying trusted business partners
- Building Alliance Partnerships
2. Developing your communications skills
- Driving referrals or personal recommendations
- Building YOUR brand
3. Finding a professional mentor
- Rule of thumb – Each and every professional should have two professional mentors outside of their current place of work.
- As a young professional or even someone with an extensive career, networking allows you to meet and interact with professionals that have taken different twists and turns in life. Over time, you will identify someone that has the “Life” experiences that fit YOU both from a personality and life experience standpoint. Choosing a mentor that fits you is paramount in your career progression and development. I’ve been blessed to identify and have 5 great personal/professional mentors that range from being an executive with a publicly traded organization, a privately held business owner, a father of three children and a golf enthusiast.
- Not only can professional networking help you build a prosperous career, it can prepare you for what life may throw at you. If you are relocating for a career opportunity, chances are you may not know anyone in your future market place. Apply the principles that you’ve applying throughout your professional life to your personal life to build your new network of friends and colleagues.
I’ve been blessed to have a 19-year career within the service industry. It’s been a great pleasure to have networking as the number 1 component of my job. I’ve built lifelong friendships with individuals who I otherwise, never would have crossed paths with. You all know who you are and I’m grateful to call you friends and thankful that my career has connected us. For any follow up discussion or questions about the WHY, HOW or WHERE to network, please don’t hesitate to connect and contact me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A.J. Ray currently serves as the President and Founder of Precision Recruiting Solutions Group® with more than 19 years of experience in the executive recruiting, temporary staffing and public accounting industries, including experience with an international Big 4 firm and both a privately held and publicly held national staffing firm. Before founding Precision Recruiting Solutions Group®, A.J. held a variety of progressive roles within the staffing industry including, Recruiter, Account Manager, Senior Market Manager and Client Relationship Executive furthering his understanding of customer needs and the industry. Prior to Precision Recruiting Solutions Group®, A.J. worked for a publicly traded national provider of accounting and finance staffing as a Senior Market Manager and previously as an Auditor with Deloitte, LLP.
A.J. received his undergraduate degree in Accounting from Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania.