Networking Smarter, Not Harder

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You can't peruse an article on job-hunting without reading the adage "It's not what you know, but who you know." As overused as this mantra is, it's dead on, especially nowadays when the competition is at its fiercest. The reality is networking takes time, and it can be a challenge with everything on your plate.

How can you find time for networking when you plate is already full? The key? Be supremely effective with your efforts. It's not necessarily more time; it's being effective at what you're doing. Here are some tips to help you become a more effective networker.

Use social media to your advantage.

First and foremost, take advantage of LinkedIn. A Forbes article published 5/11/12 (appropriately titled “Recruiters Say: Avoid LinkedIn At Your Peril”), confirmed that LinkedIn was frequently a recruiter's first point of entry to a candidate. For candidates seeking careers in recruiting or sales, marketing and business development roles, it's a career ender if you have no profile or a limited profile with a low number of connections. Your LinkedIn profile should be nurtured, with new connections and recommendations added on a regular basis.

Use networking events to develop meaningful contacts.

Attending networking events is a no-brainer for adding more people to your network of contacts. However, these can be a tremendous time suck, and how many times have you walked out without having met anyone useful? The key with networking events is to set the proper expectations. Your goal in a two-hour event is to make two to three meaningful contacts, NOT to walk out with 20 business cards for people with whom you didn't really engage. To help your efforts, find out who will be attending the event and target specific attendees.

Before the event, research the company and its executives. Knowing the backgrounds of the people you’ll meet will help you have a meaningful conversation before requesting business cards and an opportunity to follow-up afterwards. Remember, conversation is a two-way street, so avoid focusing only on yourself. Strive to be a truly likable person. People remember your personality even if they cannot recall your list of accomplishments. For an executive to be interested (and meet with you afterwards), you need to be interesting.

Use diligence to maintain your meaningful contacts.

Once you've made the connection, follow-up two or three days later (to avoid the initial crush), reminding the executive of your discussion. Regardless of whether the exec meets with you, it's your responsibility to maintain the connection. Set-up Google alerts so articles with the company or exec's name will be brought to your attention. Important notices can spark a quick "congrats" or similar note to the person you're trying to meet. Don’t send more than one email a quarter (unless it's really spectacular news). You don’t want the exec to feel like you’re stalking him or her. Meanwhile, add the exec to your holiday card list as another way to keep the connection alive.

Use volunteer opportunities to expand your network.

Another great networking avenue is volunteering for a cause that you care about. Not only will you be doing something good for the world, it may be an opportunity to meet similar, like-minded executives. And you can bring the whole family along as well. Everyone wins! If you’re not sure about where to volunteer, consider this tip. Visit the website of your targeted companies and search their philanthropic activity. It’s likely they will list charities in which they are involved, and you can volunteer at those organizations. Perhaps this tactic isn’t completely altruistic, but hey, it’s a jungle out there.

Use the Kelley alumni network.

Finally, make use of your alumni network. It's a built in connection and already gives you something to talk about! In 1999, I helped to create the women's cable channel, Oxygen. When the company was purchased by NBC Universal (NBCU), I was out of job because my function(s) were absorbed into NBCU. Through the Kelley Alumni Relations office, I found out that an IU grad, John (BS '82), was the president of MediaWorks, a major division within NBCU that housed all the functions I was leading at Oxygen. I e-mailed John with the subject line “Fellow IU grad.” He agreed to meet, and one month later, I received two offers from different divisions within his realm. My IU connection didn't get me the job offers—that was my skill set. BUT I would not have had the opportunity to highlight my skill set if it weren't for the IU connection. I've since left NBCU to build my own consulting practice, and you can bet I still use the IU alumni network.

Remember that now is the time to begin building your professional network. Waiting until graduation will definitely leave you at a disadvantage in the job market. And while hard work and talent is essential, the job pool is filled with talented, hardworking individuals. So make yourself stand out by networking smarter, not harder.

Read my blog post "What to do When Job Change Happens to You" for additional tips on networking and keeping your spirits up following a lay-off.