As an active recruiter (I am the owner of HIREghana – www.HIREgh.com), my associates and I come daily across through several hundred of LinkedIn profiles via our candidate sourcing searches and via our very own professional networking too.
What prompted me to write on this topic is reading an article this week on Deutche Welle’s website ( http://dw.com/p/1J09x) about 1000+ students graduating from Tamale Polytechnic with zero job prospects. There are a lot of claims that up to 80% of professional opportunities come to us from the people we already know; but even if that is not 80& but 60%, still it is significant percentage and thus it is highly recommended for anyone –whether recent or past graduate- to engage in proper professional networking.
But how do you do that?
1. Make a Plan.
Take the time and define why you want to network/ what are your networking objectives (e.g. Job hunting? Sales leads? Mentor searching?), what are your expectations and how you are going to do it. Also decide what networking platforms (physical – e.g. professional associations, or online) or online media you are going to utilize and why and how. And a plan needs to have a milestones or some kind of measuring progress. A simple plan might be something that you will increase your LinkedIn network by 5 people daily and you will talk to a stranger once a week. Networking can also be used to build your knowledge.
Word of advice: You might want to keep your professional networking activities and your private life separately; think whether that applies for you.
2. Sharpen Your Image.
Before you go out there and start your professional networking activities, whether physical or online, make sure that your online footprint looks professional and also you don’t turn off people with your appearance or manner when you go to an association or a meet-up or any other meeting.
I know that sounds too elementary of an advice but a lot of people seem unable to do this. And talking about your religion or political believes does not belong or should not be part of your image; not that you can’t network professionally in your church/ temple etc. and of course you should network everywhere.
And don’t sell vitamins or real estate or clothing or whatever else on LinkedIn- it was not made for that and it actually does not work like that; so don’t damage your image because you think you can make some quick cash. Money usually comes from hard work.
3. Prepare/ Do your “Homework”!
Prepare for any networking activity or event in the same way that you prepare would for any other business meeting. If it is a physical event, dress properly, check attendee- list and search their LinkedIn profiles and the companies they work for; the more you find out, the easier and more focused your conversation will be with these people. Btw, a good idea is to familiarize yourself with the general daily- news, just in case you need to make some small talk.
Same is true for online networking or online events. Don’t ask someone what their company does, especially if that company has a website. And make your question focused: i.e. it is different if you ask a CFO what a CFO does (don’t make them think “google it you lazy moron”) and if you ask them what does he specifically is involved with as the CFO of Company GhanaABCXYZ.
4. Build Relationships.
You cannot just meet someone or connect to someone online and a few seconds later ask them for a job or for a donation to your NGO (btw, too many people seem to have unregistered NGOs these days).
We all eat lunch and dinner. So, why don’t you make it a practice to schedule and have lunch with a colleague (to whom you have never talked to before) or some new acquaintance once or a few times a week? Did you just do that? Have you kept notes from that meeting: i.e. what the person likes, does s/he have children, cats, etc.?
Since Professional Networking is a social activity about building relationships, be honest, be yourself and be an open communicator. Don’t be uptight or reserve. Share your opinions with respect as well as your knowledge; talk about/ share your ideas, be open and get to know people. Obviously, ask them about themselves, why they are with you attending a specific event etc. Avoid flattery- Just build a real relationship.
5. Keep in Touch.
Keep in touch regularly – but not too often: don’t overwhelm your Professional Network with too much communication or anything irrelevant or of no-value to them. Don’t spam people –especially on LinkedIn with a simple ‘Hi’ or ‘How are you’ or other one- word communications. Have a clear full body message, so you do not end up annoying your connections.
Remember, meeting a person it is just a start. You need to put the energy to build a relationship and you can’t just follow up 3 years later when you need something from them. Always follow- up the same day or the day after you met a connection physically or online. Ideally, all your follow- up messages should be clear, well- written, short and to- the- point.
Trust takes time to build.
Communication has 2 purposes: either adds value or it has an entairtainmnet purpose. I do not suggest to you to be a comedian, but please ask yourself what is the value conveyed by your message.
6. Relevant Connections.
Sure you should be polite and respectful and every connection counts, but focus on what kind of people you need to go after to build the right professional network for you?
If you are in Truck & Large Vehicle Sales, then maybe attending a professional beautician conference might not be the best activity for professional networking.
7. Promote yourself.
There is a big difference between bragging and promoting yourself. If you did accomplish something, however small, share it with your network; use common sense: for example typing a full page without mistakes does not yet deserve a Nobel prize.
Be open, honest and modestly indicate, explain and communicate your accomplishment. That’s all it takes.
Another way to promote yourself, is by posting, blogging on items of professional nature. Just make sure what the content of your writing adds value to the average reader.
8. Turn your Social Chat into Business Chat.
Just ask people what they are doing, if that is not obvious to you. Find out what are their current problems and challenges. If relevant to what you are doing, suggest what they might be able to do better (yes free advice) and then if they like it, you are talk about how you can do these things for them.
A business chat it is NOT a Sales Pitch!
Paraphrasing something that I read long ago: “Don’t count your chats- make your chats count”
9. Golden LinkedIn Tip
Sometimes, LinkedIn will put a stop to your search based on having used up your allowed number of commercial searches – this is true for all accounts. So, you end up been allowed to see 3 or 4 results out of all available ones. Use the following tool to resolve this issue:
Yes, it works!
10. Who to Avoid?
Simply avoid networkers who ruthlessly exploit their contacts but they never return favors or respond to any of your communication or they just do not listen. Hmmm. Are you familiar with people like these?
Once again: Network, Network, Network.
Networking takes time and energy. So try to enjoy it as much as possible. Starting with a small networking group is ok. Attend professional events. Join a professional organization ideally one with a local presence in your geography.
Spending time on networking will pay off. Just go out there (whether physically or on line) and meet new interest people and talk to them and fun. There will come the time when you will be networking like a pro.