By Wendy Lalli
Building a strong professional network is essential for every career. There are, of course, many ways to develop this essential career tool. Joining and actively participating in organizations like the Chicago AMA is one thing you can do. You can also go to business events and socialize with colleagues, vendors and even competitors out of the office. Of course, you should do all of the above but social media provides you with another way to deepen the contacts you make face-to-face and connect with people you may never meet in person.
LinkedIn is the gold standard for professional networking.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. are all useful networking venues but none of these channels has the reach or the power of LinkedIn. The fact is, having a fully functioning LinkedIn profile is as important as having an up-to-date resume. Moreover, when you meet new people at networking events, asking them to link in with you is the easiest and most effective way to connect with them immediately and in the future.
To take full advantage of LinkedIn, fill in all the sections of your profile and include a professional looking photo. Then make your profile as public as possible. Add updates to your profile several times a week including networking events, educational events, blogs posted, etc. Join appropriate LinkedIn groups and comment on discussions within these groups. Even better, initiate discussions of your own. Blog for Pulse on topics of general interest or personal insights and experiences that can help others with their careers. Post links to articles on your update section that will reflect your expertise in your industry and your willingness to share your knowledge. LinkedIn isn’t about connecting with old school chums and family members but adding weight to your professional presence online.
Here are three tips to keep in mind to help achieve that goal:
- Networking is a numbers game. Play it to win. The more people you can connect with who are in your industry or in industries related to yours – the better. However, this is NOT the same as just adding more names to your LinkedIn contact list. For example, if you’re a copywriter, adding plumbers, waiters and insurance reps to your professional network probably won’t help you find a new job or learn more about the latest trends in your industry. On the other hand, connecting with art directors, media specialists, account executives and other writers will help you do all of the above.
- Help others to help yourself. The real secret to building a business network is proactively helping others whether or not you immediately get something back in return. This assistance can take many forms. Telling someone about a job, passing on the contact information of an appropriate hiring manager, advising someone on their resume, writing a blog to share what you know or just giving moral support to a job hunter when they didn’t get the job. If you have a solid social media presence, these interactions can take place even with people you’ve never met who live thousands of miles away! Here are two examples of how to network via social media:
Example 1: One night about six years ago, I opened up my LinkedIn account to find an invitation from Henry B. I had never met Henry – he lives in Los Angeles and I’m in Chicago. When I looked at his LinkedIn profile, I discovered that, like me, he blogged frequently for Pulse. (In fact, I think that’s how he found me.) It turned out that Henry had held senior leadership positions at some of the biggest ad agencies in the country and now was a consultant to major corporations on new business development. I was extremely flattered that someone at his level of experience would be interested in connecting with me and accepted his invitation as soon as I could. A few months later Henry sent me a message via LinkedIn that Sally, his college-age daughter was coming to Chicago to start a career in marketing. Knowing from my profile that I taught copywriting at Columbia College and had previously been a recruiter, he asked if I would be willing to advise her about her resume and then pass it on to my contacts in the city.
After an email exchange with Sally, I suggested some changes to her resume and then gave her the names and contact information of about 15 recruiters in town. I also alerted these recruiters that she would be in touch with them shortly. A few weeks later I was pleasantly surprised to receive a check for $100 from one of these agencies as a finder’s fee. It seems that Henry’s daughter was a dynamite candidate and the recruiter had been able to place her immediately in a full time job.
Since then, Henry has coached me at various times via email on creating new business proposals and he also sent me a DVD of one of his speeches. (He’s a well-known motivational speaker on business presentations and networking for corporations and universities.) Although we’ve still never met or even talked on the phone, I am very proud to be connected to Henry and I think he feels the same way about me.
Example 2: A year and a half ago I posted a blog on Pulse offering advice on networking and Victor D., a project manager at Dell, wrote a nice comment about it. Checking out his LinkedIn profile before I responded to his comment, I saw that he worked in Austin, Texas. At that time, I was considering relocating to Austin if I found a suitable position. In thanking him for his kind remarks, I mentioned that I was considering relocating to Austin myself.
Within a few days, Victor sent me several job descriptions from his company’s internal job board along with the names and direct phone numbers of the department managers responsible for filling these positions. Of course, I thanked him for his efforts on my behalf but since the jobs were above my level of experience, I was reluctant to send off a resume. Victor responded to my reluctance by sending me two more job descriptions a little lower on the food chain that had not yet been posted publicly. As it turned out, due to family considerations I decided that relocation was just not an option. But if it had been, I’m sure Victor would have helped make it happen! It goes without saying that if Victor wants my help in the future, he’s got it!
- Stay in touch to get ahead. Networking, like any activity involving personal interaction, takes work and constant attention. To stay connected to your contacts you need to know where they are and what they’re doing, and then let them know the same about you. Fortunately, LinkedIn makes this relatively easy even if your contact list, like mine, is over 700 people. If someone is having an anniversary, congratulate them on it. If they’ve been promoted, send them a little LinkedIn message acknowledging their achievement. If someone endorses you, thank them for their recognition of your skill sets. Keep these messages short, cheerful and to the point, but send them as often as you can.
Is there someone you haven’t connected with for a while who you’d like to be closer to? Post a recommendation for them on LinkedIn based on your previous experience with them. Hopefully, they’ll return the favor and write a recommendation for you. But even if they don’t, you’ll have reminded them of your work together and why you’re worth staying in touch with.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. Remember, networking is always about giving whatever and wherever and to whomever you can. Concern for others allows you to build bridges – making the world a smaller and much friendlier place.