A Networking "How-to" ...

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Well, co-Job-Stalker Gordon Dymowski came up with a goodie this
week ... his reflections on networking, both his own experiences with
the subject, and something of a how-to for its implementation. As
I've frequently pushed here, networking should be an essential part
of not just job-seeking (but it is a key element there), but in
professional career-building in general.



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    One of the things that I am extremely grateful for - especially in my job search - is really knowing how to network well.

    For me, it can be very easily frustrating to feel like I'm not "in the loop" because I am not attending every available evening and lunch time networking event. Part of it is simply that there are so many opportunities in Chicago, it is difficult to make every one of them. Sometimes, I often wonder if "networking" is simply a synonym for "schmoozing"....but no negativity here. I'm grateful because I have the ability to draw on skills and focus from two men who served as mentors - and great examples - of how best to professionally network.

    Imagine, if you will, the heady days of mid-2005 - why, it almost seems like six years ago when I was in transition, moving away from a mid-level field at a public health-based non-profit and looking for a mid-level director's position. I was involved in a local job club, and heard a speaker by the name of Frank Danzo. At the time, he was working for BJC, the largest health care system in St. Louis.

    And he was my first "networking mentor."

    When he spoke, it was a revelation - he talked about networking not as schmoozing, but as relationship building. He had a kind of system - you created a list of target companies and potential contacts within that company. (As a non-profit worker, I mentally substituted the word "agency"). When talking to people, be organized enough to bring a short agenda and stick to twenty minutes. It was also about reciprocity - that my goal was not to get job leads and move on, but to provide value and occasionally, "ping" my network. Finally, Frank suggested that I wasn't asking people for job leads, but for networking contacts - people I should be talking to who were doing the kind of things professionally that I would like to be doing, or who had experience that I was seeking.

    To put this in context - at the time, many other professionals were touting the then-released Linked In, claiming that it allowed you to "network while you slept". Granted, no one had an idea of how networked we would become as a society, but even then, it had a whiff of unbelievability. But thanks to Frank, I learned to leverage it as a way of discovering who was doing what in a given agency, and talking. I became very acquainted with Linked In's "introduction" service, and that helped eventually lead to employment, learning about an EPA-funded position through both a long-range contact and a close, personal friend.

    So I learned very early on that professional networking - especially in a job search - was always people-centered, and never about simply collecting business cards.  It was about cultivating professional relationships, and more importantly, being willing to "pay it forward." Calling myself a maven maybe easy after reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, but the whole point of networking is demonstrating my value on a continual basis. Part of sharing information is being willing - and able - to connect with anyone.

    I learned this second lesson - focusing on the how of connecting - almost five years ago, when I moved back to Chicago to care for a sick parent.. I had decided to attend a networking function at the Hard Rock Hotel on Michigan. Although my memory is foggy as to why, I had felt very much out of my game - I wanted to sit at the bar, be quiet, and just people watch.

    Thankfully, a very well-dressed, soft spoken gentleman approached me and said, "Hi, I'm Harvey." After introducing myself, he said, "You know, rather than sit here alone, why don't you join us?"

    Chances are, if you have attended a professional networking event in Chicago, you've met Harvey or someone like him. The kind of person who goes out of his way to make introductions in a warm, friendly manner. No matter what the individual, always has a kind thing to say, and who is genuinely interested in the answer when he asks, "How are you?" From Harvey, I've really learned how to be a better connector (I know, again with the Tipping Point reference) - and that if I'm too busy to connect, I may be taking a slightly different approach.

    My networking tactics have had to change over the years - part of it is balancing work (when employed) with other pursuits, but recently, with so many networking events to choose from - and a competitive job market - I've had to rethink it. My efforts have been focused more on one-to-one interviews in past fields of endeavor (like tobacco prevention and chemical dependency), and I have also been looking somewhat closer to home. Yes, I am well aware that I need to attend networking events, but more importantly - I need to cultivate my current professional relationships.

    (I also learned that there's more to networking than evening events - there are alternatives like Business Network Chicago's topic-specific lunches, and early morning gatherings like the Social Media Breakfast and the Chicago Geek Breakfast allow for interacting with others in a much different atmosphere.)

    In fact, I e-mailed both of my "mentors" about this blog post, letting them know that I'm writing it. I do touch base with them on a regular basis, but mostly because professional relationships not only helped me get work, they have also helped me stay working. And right now, they're helping keep me accountable.

    So, Frank and Harvey - thank you for sharing your wisdom. Let me know when you have time and are local - I'm more than willing to sit down over a cup of coffee and some good networking conversation.

    After all, it's the least I can do for two master networkers.
 

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