How to Turn a Stranger into a Network Contact
Charles Purdy | Monster+HotJobs senior editor
Whether you’re looking for a job or trying to advance your career, networking is very important (in a recent HotJobs poll, 57 percent of respondents said that networking was a factor in landing their most recent job). And networking shouldn’t end when you log off of LinkedIn or head home from a conference. Valuable contacts are on the perimeter of your social circle, they’re the parents of your kids’ school chums, they’re sitting next to you on airplanes—basically, they’re all around you every day. So how do you turn these people from relative strangers into valuable network contacts?
Step 1: Identify good contacts.
An effective professional network has a wide variety of types of people, including people from outside your industry. So how do you decide whether someone you meet at a cocktail party is someone you want in your circle? Career expert Liz Ryan says it’s more about “feel” than logic: “You’ve got a certain style and approach, and people who are comfortable with you and with whom you’re comfortable will make up your A-list for network cultivation.”
Look for people who are active in and passionate about their field (whatever it is), and who seem interested in what you’re doing. Also, people who communicate well are likely to be “connectors” who have their own networks that you may be able to tap into.
Step 2: Manage your contacts.
Productivity expert Stever Robbins, the author of “Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More,” offers tips for managing the business cards you receive:
First, if you’re at a conference or a similar event where you’re receiving a lot of business cards, Robbins suggests jotting down quick memory-aid notes on the backs of cards—so when you enter the contact in your digital address book, you can record (in the Notes field) the name of the conference and what you talked about.
Then, immediately after you put a new person into your address book, send a brief “Great to meet you” email—with a note about your conversation and a brief follow-up.
Effective networking begins long before you need to get something from your network. First, you must demonstrate that you have something to offer—this builds a foundation of goodwill. Every time you talk to someone in your professional network, you should ask what he or she is working on, so you’re aware of the problems your contacts are trying to solve.
In his book “Well Connected: An Unconventional Approach to Building Genuine, Effective Business Relationships,” executive coach Gordon S. Curtis offers suggestions on how to offer value to a new contact: consider how you could supply information, new clients, or interesting products—or even other contacts. Curtis explains, “If you make the right introduction, both parties will feel you’ve done them favors.”