“Networking” can feel like an overwhelming concept, mostly because finding the right people to help you on your career journey isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. Well, you’ve heard how it’s more manageable to conquer le big stuff on your to-do list when you break things down into small tasks, and networking is no exception. No, we’re not telling you to go the “do one event per week!” route—we’re saying to break the entire idea of networking down into two categories: short-term, and long-term.
While the focus of short-term networking is leveraging your network, long-term networking is all about mentorship and building relationships. Networking is something you should be doing all the time—not just when you need advice or a job right this second—and that’s why it’s helpful to think of it both in terms of “right now” and “later.” Sherri Thomas, president of Career Coaching 360 and the award-winning author of The Bounce Back, has the latest scoop on short-term and long-term networking strategies—and how you can be awesome at both.
Your Long-Term Focus: Building Relationships
When networking for the long-term, think about who you want to learn from and how you can get (and keep) them in your circle. “Long-term networking is about building and nurturing relationships that could help move your career forward or in a different direction,” Thomas says. “People in your network can you help you grow, stretch, and bounce in your career.”
1. Surround yourself with career influencers.
One of the best things you can do for your career is build relationships with people who can mentor you, hire you, or introduce you to someone who can do those things. The goal is to make contacts at your dream company before you get ready to apply there, right? Think former or current coworkers, classmates, mentors, peers—don’t discount any one type of person from your network because you never know who will introduce you to your next opportunity.
[Learn: Build Your All-Star Network]
Attending industry events and joining professional organizations can up your chances of meeting solid career influencers, too—plus it can give you some cred when reaching out to those influencers. Keep an eye out for conferences and workshops that interest you, and of course we may be biased, but Local Levo is a great resource for such opportunities in your area. When you go, remember that people are there because they want to connect and be a resource, so don’t feel like you’re imposing by reaching out to someone you don’t know.
2. Always be giving.
A networking relationship should benefit both people, so even if one of you is clearly in a stronger position to help the other, think of ways you can add value too. Giving can come in many forms—introducing your contact to someone else in your network, or simply saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to return the favor.” And of course, you can always endorse your contacts on LinkedIn or tag them on your Levo profile.
You should also learn about the interests and goals of people in your network, and find thoughtful ways of staying in contact. “If someone in your network is fascinated in technically-advanced doohickies,” Taylor says, “then send them a link to a video, blog, or upcoming conference that features the latest advancements in doohickies.” Or if one of your contacts is on the engineering team for a certain product that you’ve used, send a link to your five-star review. Proactively sending information and opportunities of interest to your contacts is a great way to pull your weight in your network, and will likely make your contacts more inclined to engage with you when you need advice or a referral.
3. Develop a networking plan.
One of the biggest long-term networking pitfalls is losing touch with your contacts. To have a strong network, you can’t just connect with people—you have to consistently invest in the relationships. It might be awkward if, for example, you requested advice from someone you met at a conference six years ago and haven’t made contact with since—and they don’t remember you. The more consistent your contact, the easier it will be to ask for advice or a favor when you really need it.
Creating your own networking plan comes in handy here. It can be as simple as a spreadsheet with the names and contact information of people in your circle. And as soon as you make new contacts, enter their info into your spreadsheet ASAP—there’s no sense in getting someone’s business card if it gets lost in your junk drawer. Your networking plan should also document each person’s level of importance in your network, how frequently you want to connect with them each year, and a short sentence describing your most recent interaction. Defining these networking goals will prevent a VIP contact from slipping through the cracks. It might sound exhaustive, but no doubt it’ll help you keep your people straight.
Your Short-Term Focus: Leveraging Relationships
This is where all of your long-term networking can really pay off. If you’ve been laid off or need to quickly find a new job, then you’ll need to leverage your network to get as many job leads, referrals, and recommendations as soon as possible. “Short-term networking means that you need something specific and you need it right now,” Thomas says.
1. Start with your “easiest” contacts.
The key here is asking the right things of the right people. If you’re looking for a recommendation, for example, you’re going to want to ask the people in your network who know you best and are most eager to help you. But if you need advice or a referral, you might also be looking to leverage your contacts in the middle-to-low familiarity range. “Pick up the phone or send them a personal note to say, ‘You’re someone I really admire and trust. I’d love to have a quick 10-minute conversation to get your advice.’ Most people, especially when they know you, will give you 10 minutes,” Thomas says.
2. Reach out the right way.
Keep your conversations brief and positive, especially if it’s a contact you aren’t really friends with. Remember, the phone call is only for 10 minutes, so share very briefly your key accomplishments, the type of position you’re looking for, and ask if they become aware of any job openings to please let you know. Don’t even think about mentioning what a pain your last manager was, or how unorganized your last company was. You want to sound excited about new opportunities and appreciative of the person’s time. And always thank your contacts, especially if their referrals and advice helped you land a new job or learn a new skill. It never hurts to send a thank you note.
3. Expand your network.
This is a short-term networking strategy that can also work in the long-term, i.e. if you’re just trying to acquire more contacts and don’t need something specific right now. Encourage people in your network to put you in contact with others in their networks who might be able to help you find what you’re looking for. “Finish your calls by asking if there’s anyone in their network whom they recommend you talk to,” Thomas says. “I’ve asked this question to my network many times, and my clients have done this as well, with terrific results. People are very willing to help us—we just need to ask!”
And unless you haven’t quit your job yet, you want the whole world to know you’re looking for a job. It’s a good idea to let as many contacts as possible know you’re looking, that way your name will be top-of-mind when they hear about positions that could be perfect for you. If you can, update your Levo, LinkedIn, and maybe even your social media profiles to say you’re on the job hunt. The more people who know you’re looking for a job, the more advice, job leads, and referrals you’ll get sent your way.
Photo: Thomas Barwick / Getty Images