By Denise King Gillingham, LMSW, ACC, CPM
What do you think when you hear the term networking? Some of us may think about jobs, computers, or resources— the list is long. But all of these things have something in common: they are focused on sharing or exchanging information.
Networking creates opportunities and broadens our possibilities. We all network regularly, often without being aware of what we are doing. On any given day, we may ask a friend to refer us to a doctor, ask someone else if they know of a good piano teacher, and connect with a former colleague through social media—all are examples of networking.
In addition to the networking that may be an unconscious part of our daily lives, there are times when we network deliberately, looking for information for a new project or field of study or a place to relocate. Networking to advance professional goals has become essential in today’s career landscape. While the idea of networking may appear opportunistic to some, the reality is that the practice, when done mindfully, can be positive for all involved, allowing us to share ideas and expertise and contribute to one another’s success.
If you are looking to engage in networking to promote your professional goals, consider the following steps to help maximize productivity.
11 Steps to Being a Mindful Networker
Know what you want from networking. Are you exploring new career opportunities? Looking for advancement in your current company? Seeking new clients or contacts for current projects? Identifying your goal for networking at the outset will help you connect with the most relevant resources.
- Make a list and check it twice. As you set out to network with a specific professional goal in mind, make a comprehensive list of everyone you know. Even if all the people you list are not outwardly connected with your professional field, they may have valuable contacts or ideas. This initial list will be the base from which you start networking.
- From that initial list, note additional people whom you may not know personally but who are connected to the people on your list and are potential resources. This master document is your source list. It can help jog your memory and possibly inspire new ideas and is essential for organizing your contacts.
- Set networking goals. Once you have established what you want from networking and have made a master list of sources, set yourself attainable tasks to ensure that you make progress. For instance, a goal might be to speak with two new people each week or to send out three e-mail queries. Determine what you think is manageable given your current responsibilities and then stick to it!
- Do your homework. If you are going to ask someone to help you and share their expertise or contacts, you need to be well informed about their background and professional field. While people want to help, they also want to see that you are prepared. Ask questions that have answers beyond what you can find online, and show a thorough understanding of the subject you are pursuing.
- Be genuine and clear about your intentions. Ask for what you want. For example: “I am looking for information about x. Can you help me or do you know someone who can?” While many of us may be hesitant to be so forthright, being honest will help make the meeting as productive as possible. And what’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone may say no. If that happens, you will simply regroup and move on to the next source.
- Feel good about asking. When you ask someone for help, it makes that person feel good; you are acknowledging his or her expertise. Most people like to talk about themselves and what they do. And people like to help others. If they are not interested or are unable to help you, they will let you know.
- Be mindful of the value of time. If you ask someone for a meeting or request a phone conversation, ask for reasonable amount of their time and stop the meeting when that time is up (even if the conversation is running over and going well). Acknowledging that you requested a specific window of time and that you have taken it shows the person that you respect his or her schedule. If the person wants to engage further, he or she will let you know.
- Send a handwritten thank-you note. When people take the time to meet with you and offer insight and information, they are giving you something precious. Show them that you appreciate their gift by offering appropriate thanks.
- Be organized. Keep records of each meeting or conversation: list the person, the date of the conversation, and the resulting thoughts or ideas, as well as specific next steps related to that connection (e.g., send a thank-you note or reach out again in two weeks).
- Continue to broaden your master list. Each time you meet with someone on your list, consider asking that person if he or she knows know anyone else who might be a valuable contact. This way you will continue to build your connections.
- Be open to new possibilities. If you find yourself in a meeting that initially does not seem to be in line with your initial goal, remember that this new information might point you toward a different path altogether, broadening your possibilities beyond your original scope and creating new opportunities. Don’t be afraid to explore!
Networking is a wonderful way to explore many areas. Be aware of your self-limiting behaviors and keep them in check. Stay resourceful and positive! As Dr. Seuss wrote, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.”
Denise King Gillingham, LMSW, ACC, CPM, is a certified coach and mediator. Denise creates and delivers programs for corporations and organizations throughout the United States and Europe on social and emotional intelligence and nonviolent communication. Her coaching clients span all corners of the globe and all walks of life, from the international business executive to the stay-at-home parent. Denise has coached more than 500 clients. She received her MSW degree from Columbia University and has worked as a family therapist at The Paine Whitney Clinic in New York. She earned an advanced certification in systems and relationship coaching and is CTI certified. She has also been a substance abuse therapist at the Bronx VA Medical Center in New York and had a private therapy practice in Prague, Czech Republic. Prior to receiving her MSW, Denise held various leadership roles in the financial services industry. Contact Denise at dkgcoaching.com.