Networking: Just Do It
By David Liss
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 25, 2004; 12:09 PM
Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
- Jane Howard, "Families">
Networking is to many adults what eating vegetables is to many children -- something you just won't do unless you are forced. No matter who you are or what you do, networking is a necessity of professional life.
Despite the value of networking, it is often underestimated. "Many business and employment opportunities come from people getting to know each other in an informal basis: at clubs, parties, schools, and professional organizations," says Tony Gittens, executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. "These are the places where you get to know someone. These are the places that you find out about jobs that are not published. Nothing is a sure thing, but networking creates chances that wouldn't be there otherwise."
Ideally, you'll meet an executive recruiter. Larry Slesinger, founder and CEO of
Slesinger Management Services in Bethesda, identifies top candidates through people in his network.
The best time to network is before you need a job. Just as you want help from others, other people may need help from you, so give it freely. You never know on which side of the employment table you'll end up or when you may reshape your career.
Identifing Your Value and Desires
Networking in nonprofits and associations is about identifying communities of interest and concern. Start with the community that you care most about whether it's education and homelessness or the National Association of Frozen Food Manufacturers. Then identify jobs and career tracks in organizations that match your goals.
No matter if you are looking for an internship, your first job, or switching careers you have to begin in the same place. "Identify what your value proposition is to any prospective employer," says Barbara Benney, director of human resources with The Phillips Collection. When you meet people, you must have a firm idea of what you want to pursue. "You must be very clear on what kind of job you want before you start your networking process," advises Kae Dakin, president of Washington Grantmakers, a regional association of 140 grantmakers.
"Be prepared with your personal elevator speech that summarizes your skill set, your specific job interests and objectives and what you want from other people as you network (referrals, time to meet with them)" instructs Linda Finkle, a career and business coach with Innovative Solutions Group in Rockville. If you don't know what you want from someone and can't articulate your value to an organization, how can anybody help you?
In order to demonstrate that you're a considerate yet effective professional, you must:
Identify your value proposition for any prospective employer.
Know the work and the mission of the organization or interest area where you want to work.
Be clear about the job you want.
Be prepared with a brief statement that summarizes your skills, job interests, and career objectives to tell a people as you network. Try and keep it to a 30 second shpiel.
Ask for the names of two other people you can speak with.
Arrange to get 10 minutes of their time either over the phone or in the office to get their advice on pursuing X career at Y type of an organization. You have got to really suck up to the person here. Make them feel like they just wrote the Bible or something.
Follow-up - graciously! And always respect their time.
First impressions are the most lasting ones. You've got to be able to articulate your goals and abilities in the short time between saying hello and when your contact starts to think about where he can get his next drink. Be brief, be clear, be direct, be gracious, and be gone!
Following up can be a sensitive area and will depend on how well you know your contact. Finkle suggests that you be careful about how often you follow up. You don't want to pester. Finkle suggests sending a note or calling them to say thanks. All subsequent follow-ups should depend on what your contact says.
At the same time, if you get a lead from a referral, follow-up with the person who gave you the lead. Send a note describing the outcome, even if it's not a positive one. The person who gave you the contacts will be more likely to help again in the future.
Editor's note: This article by David Liss, was acquired by washingtonpost.com on April 30, 2003.
© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive