Networking 101

contributed by James Ledoux [IT training consultant / travel enthusiast / dancing machine]

Like it or not, jobs usually end up going to someone that is known (directly or indirectly) to the person doing the hiring. It may not seem fair, but business sometimes boils down to "who you know." Skill, experience, personality, a dazzling résumé, platinum references, and a mind-blowing portfolio all matter a great deal, but when there is a tie, a personal connection tips the balance.

Recently I narrowly missed landing an amazing job in this manner. As the hiring manager said, "We know you could do a great job, but we wanted to go with someone we know." Turns out I was passed over for a friend of the HR Manager. I can't really be mad that a personal connection cost me this opportunity since the vast majority of jobs I have landed were based on personal referrals.

You can either be frustrated by this fact of business life or use it to your advantage. The weapon of choice to uncover hidden opportunities is networking. The term “networking” may conjure unsavory images of soap-pushing, get-rich-quick-promising, pie-in-the-sky hucksters, but there is a way to approach networking in the real world that won't make you feel ill.

1 Be Real

Don't pretend, promise things you can't deliver, or fake liking someone to earn favor. Be overt with your goals when talking with folks about networking.

Example: "I'm looking for design work in the Austin area. I would appreciate it if you pass along my name to anyone looking for a graphic designer. I will be happy to send folks looking for XYZ your way."

Above all be your self. Or at least a slightly more extroverted version that asks others what they are up to, looks for ways to help, and forms a loose collaborative relationship. Acting in a disingenuous way will set off a person's pyramid scheme/sleaze ball radar in a heartbeat.

If faking your way to success interests you more than the straightforward approach, then I suggest you explore Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People or the newer Get Anyone to Do Anything: Never Feel Powerless Again With Psychological Secrets to Control and Influence Every Situation by David J. Lieberman. I will not say these books are without merit, but take them with a large bag of salt. My opinion is that it is easier and more effective to be honest with folks. (So if you hate kids, don't fake a tremendous interest in them – just be polite when photos are shown. Ha!)

2 Be Excellent

At What You DoI get lots of requests for references and referrals, but, when it comes down to it, not everyone makes the cut. I will always connect up two people that are a possible need/skill fit when asked, but I won't put my stamp of approval on someone who doesn't do kick-ass work.

Even when I don't like a job, I do my best to under-promise and over-deliver. This level of effort always pays off in the long run because the next time someone asks that client if they know anyone they can recommend, I know my name will be near the top of the list.

3 Collaborate
I know it is counter-intuitive to work with your potential competition, but collaborate as much as you can. Share lead referrals for work you can't take or don't want, and ask your peers for feedback when you need an outside opinion.

Collaborative relationships cannot be developed with everyone, but it really helps to have a small sub-network of valued advisors. Collaboration will expose you to new ideas, provide a great source of referrals, and may lead to some rewarding long-term friendships.

Hyper-ambitious folks can use collaboration to take on much bigger projects. Two small firms can share the risk/reward of large jobs by pooling resources. Just be sure to get all agreements in writing. And, by all means, pad your budgets with a 20-30% cushion because projects always have a way of expanding

A related book on modern collaboration is Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.

4 Give To Receive

Let's face it – helping others makes us feel good and (duh) HELPS OTHERS. Talk about a win-win. Volunteer organizations are an ideal place to meet new people and make important connections because you are exposed to individuals from all walks of life.

While volunteering during Hurricane Katrina, I met State Representatives, City Council members, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, designers, and a huge mix of people. What better way to get to know someone than rolling up your sleeves and working side by side for a great cause?

BONUS: I also hear that volunteering can be a potential way to expand your dating pool. Talk about a win-win-win!

5 Use Web Networking Tools In Moderation

There are a rapidly expanding number of social networks that can be a nice way to expand the circle of people you interact with on a casual basis. Join one or two and you won’t let networking become work. Trying to keep all of the major sites updated can be a lot of work that doesn't lead to real work. Focus on one or two online social networks and add to them with caution.

Personally I like LinkedIn for work related networking, Facebook for friends and family, and Twitter for occasional quick updates.

Web Networking Links:• LinkedIn – great professional networking site with job listings
Facebook – over 100 million members worldwide; good for both personal and causal professional networking
MySpace – not as cool as some of the others but still very big; popular with teens and musicians
Twitter – allows quick 140-character text updates to tell others "what you are doing"; very popular with the tech set and used at conferences
Plaxo – paid service for contact management service; good for synching across multiple computers
Orkut – Google's social networking app; huge in Brazil; if you love Gmail or Google Docs, then try Orkut

6 Talk, Talk & Talk Some More

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news for the shy guys, but there is no substitute for talking to people. Serendipity and the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon phenomenon might just drop really amazing things into your lap.

For example: If no one knows that you paint murals for kid's rooms in your spare time, then they won't have a chance to mention this to their neighbor who happens to be looking for that service.

TIP: If you find it difficult to talk to people, try focusing on their interests and not your own. People love to talk about themselves and what they love, wind them up and watch them go.More

To ComeBut, wait – there’s more! Much, much more. Tune in next month when we discuss using contact organizing software, how not to annoy your network, and why surrounding
yourself with a little mystery is sometimes a good thing.

taken from