The time for networking is NOW!

I am a networker both by personality and profession. I am a connector of people. I have varying groups of social circles and professional networks. I enjoy my colleagues (even after hours!), I love attending work events at night, and I’m always entertaining at home. Nothing pleases me more than having a drink or two with someone new who really opens up and enjoys engaging in an authentic conversation. The fact that this is required of me to be successful in my chosen profession is not a struggle. I do, however, recognize that for others –

I regularly speak on the art of networking…and typically it’s to a room full of people who have suddenly found themselves “in transition” and look like deer in headlights. I would suggest that this is not the best time to start thinking about how/when/where to begin networking. Networking (v.) is a skill and like many other skills, needs to be practiced often. Your network (n.) should be treated like a living and breathing organism – it should be nurtured often to keep it healthy and vital to your career.

My first recruiting job started out at a small contingency firm and it was a very transactional/metrics driven environment. Sadly, little thought was given to the clients’ needs or candidate experience. I was required to make hundreds of calls in the hopes that one or two said yes, throw resumes against the wall hoping that one would stick and at the end of the month/year – this should add up to something semi-lucrative. My second recruiting experience taught me a bit more about how to be a networker (n.) and how to be an influencer in the community. “Make friends, friends will help you. Friends want to see you succeed.” This was the mantra of the CEO. I reluctantly joined my first professional group in 2008 and it was extremely uncomfortable – I had no idea how to work a room or how to make friends in this setting. But, I learned and the more I did it, the more comfortable I became in these environments. My goal at first was to collect as many business cards as I could and hand out my card to anyone who would take it. If you asked me my goal today it’s to make at least one meaningful connection at any event or meeting I attend. One real connection is a successful night – anything above that is icing on the cake.

In a lot of ways, building a network gave me the confidence and certainly the relationships I needed to launch Juno in 2010. I knew that I was thought of as more than just a Recruiter, and I built sustainable relationships that would follow me – not whatever company came under my name on my business card. It’s powerful, having that sort of professional community that knows, trusts, and values you. Being successful in networking is creating your own little brand that will follow you. 

If you are sitting at your desk reading this and feeling that networking is not pertinent to your job/career/profession – you are wrong. If you have an employer who does not value continuing education, attending seminars, or networking groups – they are wrong. I would suggest that it’s critical in everyone’s profession – you are at the wheel of your career, you can direct where you go and how you get there, do not let someone else dictate this for you. 

A few suggestions to get you started:  

  • Identify a local professional organization and start attending events. HR friends – we love our local SHRM Chapters and PSPS. Accounting and Finance people – check out PICPA. IT folks – Tech week is right around the corner! See also PHIMA. 
  • Hey women! There are tons of local groups designed especially for women to lift other women.  NAWBO, PWR, SPW – to name a few. 
  • Entrepreneurs? How about Entrepreneurs Forum of Greater Philadelphia or EO Philadelphia? 
  • Younger than 40? Lots of groups. Over 40? Too many to name…
  • Do you have a philanthropic spirit? Join the Board of a local non-profit or just donate time or stay active on a committee.
  • Are you competitive and miss sports? Join a league. 
  • Find your counter-parts in other companies and organizations – develop a relationship with them to share best practices. 
  • Find a mentor – does someone have the role you see yourself in within the next ten years?  Ask them if the are willing to grab a cup of coffee. You’ll be surprised by the answer! 

I recognize some of the above organizations are local to Philadelphia – but every city has their own groups and organization – seek out yours! 

I personally believe there is no substitute for meeting people live – it’s why we still like to drag candidates to our office despite the fact that they prefer Skype. Face-to-face meetings create more authenticity and allow us an opportunity to deepen relationships. All this being said, having an on-line presence is an important layer. Find the thought leaders in your field and follow them or link to them. Share relevant content from your own social media channels – proving that you are not sitting in a cubicle disengaged, but rather interested in learning and sharing knowledge within your field. If you are so inclined, blog – share your own thoughts. Keep it professional. 

I promise you, if you do this you will create opportunities for yourself in whatever you do. You might create an opportunity for someone else, too. If you ever find yourself back in the job market, you will have a significantly easier time navigating a search and spend less time on the market. If someone has a role critical to their organization – you’ll be thought of first. You’ll be respected among your colleagues and peers. Your mind will expand. And if you are like me, you’ll make some great friends along the way. I have many close friends I met “professionally”. Some were even at my wedding and celebrated the birth of my children…

Get out of your comfort zone and create a network. Do it now!

Mikal Harden