wally

Having a good network of contacts is one of the best tools for finding work. So much so, that it is estimated that only about 25% of vacant positions are publicly advertised; the rest are filled by contacts, friends or people who have been recommended. This is why the ability to generate contacts and to maintain them is a fundamental skill for anyone who is looking for work (or wants to be promoted, or is looking for a partner or for new customers, etc.). This skill is so important that one year, in the opening ceremony for students pursuing a master’s degree at Harvard, those present were told that they would always be grateful for the contacts they would make there. You may think that a person’s ability to meet new people depends completely on how extrovert they are. But you would be wrong. Being extrovert is an advantage, but if you’re not, it’s certainly not an obstacle to making new contacts. One of the most charismatic and socially skilled people of recent times was John F. Kennedy. However, when he was a young boy, he was shy and sickly. But through the strength of his own convictions (and the insistence of his father), he managed to become a universally known figure. So, none of us has any excuses.

The secret to building up a network of contacts can be expressed in a very simple formula: interest + dedication + willingness to learn. All of these qualities can be acquired, if we don’t have them already. Let’s have a look at the 10 keys to doing this.

  1. Time and effort: As we have already mentioned, having a good network of contacts requires dedication and constant attention. It’s not something that happens overnight. Networking (to use the corporate jargon) is based on patience and action. In other words, we need to make a point of meeting new people and to show a genuine interest in them, and not just think of what they can do for us.
  2. Attend professional gatherings in a spirit of curiosity: We have to go to places where we can meet people. If we go to conferences, we may fall into the trap of only talking to the person we’ve come along with. Obviously, this is a very bad idea. It’s much better to go out of our way to talk to people we don’t know, starting with the person who happens to be sitting next to us. You may occasionally get the brush-off from someone you try to speak to, but most people are usually open to a brief initial conversation… and you never know who you might be sitting next to. If you work in a company, take part in activities where you can meet people from other departments, such as doing some kind of sport, and don’t always have lunch with the same people. And if you’re looking for work, take part forums, ask questions, join any organizations that may be useful… In short, enlarge the circle of people who are aware of what you can offer.
  3. I win, you win: Mutual benefit is the watchword for any network of contacts. If someone approaches you with the sole aim of getting something out of you, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll make them part of your network of contacts. Obviously, not all contacts offer the same scope for exchange, but no relationship should be excessively one-sided.
  4. Be helpful: Put your contacts in touch with each other if you think that it will be of benefit to them. Some people act as if their network of contacts were a kind of secret treasure to be hidden away under lock and key. This is a major error. If you want your network to expand, share it with your friends. Don’t be like Gollum, keeping the treasure all to yourself.
  5. In networks, “size matters”: If we want to have a high profile on social networks, we must let the greatest number of people possible into our own network. Obviously, each person’s level of access to information will depend on how open our network is. In the case of Facebook, we can create different groups or have two separate profiles; in the case of LinkedIn, it is worth accepting all contact requests from individuals, although not necessarily from companies. Who knows if, in the future, a new contact may be of use to you, or you to them?
  6. Respect network etiquette: The previous point throws up a problem. The bigger our network, the more time we need to manage it properly. It is easy to become sloppy, and I speak from experience here. Forgetting to acknowledge or answer an email can offend the person who’s sent it. So, as far as possible, let’s try to answer all our emails. If we can’t manage to do this, we should at least apologize for not doing so.
  7. No information overload, please: We can’t bombard our network of contacts with a constant barrage of information. I’ll never understand why some people fire off email after email with data that is of no interest whatsoever to most of the recipients. Being sensitive to the demands you make on other people’s time is an especially important skill to develop.
  8. Get the best: A good contacts network should include the best people in the fields that we’re interested in. If we believe that someone can be of help to us, we must try to get in contact with them. Technology has reduced the theory of six degrees of separation, set out by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in 1930, which maintains that any person on the planet is six steps or fewer away from any other person, by way of mutual acquaintances. Apparently, thanks to the world of social networks, this figure is now down to five or four. In the offline world, seeking out the best people means identifying the optimum way to reach out to them, whether it’s through mutual contacts, shared hobbies, etc. Speaking personally, I’ve known people in some companies who have taken up a sport purely because it enabled them to spend time with people they wanted to be in contact with.
  9. Make the most of opportunities: If you know that someone has received an award, send them a message to congratulate them. Do the same on their name day (if appropriate) and their birthday. You can also send some words of encouragement if you know they are going through a rough patch. In general, it’s very important to take care of the people we’re in contact with, keep them in mind, be aware of their tastes and interests… and show genuine concern.
  10. Have the right tools: If you’re going to meet people, you obviously need to have business cards to hand out or, failing that, to send them your personal email from your mobile as soon as you’ve established contact. Good opportunities don’t crop up every day and they can’t be wasted. You also mustn’t let more than a week go by before you get back in touch with any new contacts. People’s memory is a fragile thing and needs to be handled with care.

Take-away

A good network of contacts is one of the best ways to find work. It is based on interest + dedication + willingness to learn.

Tips

  1. Have a look at your diary and think about how many activities you’ve done in the last few weeks to get to know new people. If you don’t cultivate this habit, you’re going to find it hard to expand your range of contacts.
  2. Think about how you use social networks. Do you spend time on them to increase the number of contacts you have? How could you do more in this area?
  3. Be helpful and interested in other people. Networks are built on the basis of genuine concern for others and mutual benefit. Don’t just think about what you can get out of a relationship; in the long run, this will work against you.

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