A focus on building and maintaining relationships can produce great leads
Out of Work: Leonard J. Washington II, 46, senior vice president for digital media at Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), was downsized in October 2009.
New Position: Global director of media development for Healthymagination, a GE healthcare initiative to reduce costs, increase access, and improve healthcare quality, globally through an initial $6 billion investment.
His Challenge: Abruptly finding himself out of work, just six months into his position at OWN.
His Strategy: Washington sent e-mails notifying friends and colleagues that he was searching for employment and scheduled an average of four face-to-face meetings a week to maintain relationships and seek information. “I asked questions like, ‘Do you know of any opportunities?’ or ‘If you don’t know any, can you point me in the direction of individuals who do?’” he explains. “I even met with people just to keep abreast of what was going on in the industry. The network was very responsive.”
The Result: Debra Langford, vice president of inclusion and business diversity for NBC Universal, whom Washington has known since the late 1990s thanks to an introduction made by a mutual friend, sent a message, presenting an opportunity with GE to four people in her network including Washington. All interviewed, but it was Washington who was hired. He started his new role in March 2010.
More than 80% of job leads are developed through a personal connection. The key to having a strong network is relationship building. And the foundation of developing a strong relationship is finding mutual connections as well as offering help before you ask for it, says Langford.
Basic networking starts with attending events and connecting with people. Focus on individual interests. Does your contact have an interest in wine, travel, sports, community service? “Where you work is temporary; you want to engage someone with regards to who they are as a person,” she says.
Of course, maintaining relationships is the true value of networking. Start by sending a follow-up e-mail after the initial contact. Continue to e-mail periodically to keep people abreast of your status and inquire about theirs. When possible, schedule a lunch or dinner meeting. If you are looking to reconnect with someone, state that in your correspondence. Ultimately, an ideal network should be robust and one that is a good but manageable size. The problem with networking is that people are looking to make more requests than they are willing to fulfill one. Langford says, “The people who are going to help you the most are people you’ve had a great relationship with where you give as much as they gave.”
So How Do You Get Started?
Have a 30- to 60-second elevator speech. This should include your name, why you are at the particular event, and something interesting about yourself. When connecting with someone internally, include something relevant about the business or company.
Listen. Figuring out what makes people happy isn’t hard if you pay attention. If the person you connected with mentioned they like jazz music, in your follow-up, suggest some new jazz music for them to check out.
Diversify. There should be people in your network who are not like you. It should include people whom you respect or admire and those with whom you have a common interest or experience.
Check your brand. Networking is like marketing. You should portray what you want to be described as when you are out of the room.
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