One of the reasons Northeastern asked me to serve as the founding Dean and CEO of its Seattle Graduate Campus was because I am fairly well “connected” or “networked” in the Seattle community. In my earlier roles as the Chair of many civic organizations (Seattle Chamber, Seattle/King County Economic Development Council, Director of Washington Aerospace Partnership) and one of the leaders of several community efforts (Seattle Commons, Alaskan Way Tunnel, Schools First Capital Levy for Education and Washington Aerospace partnerships) I have had the privilege of working with a wide assortment of leaders and citizens from many different sectors of our community who have now formed my network. This “network” I have developed over the years has been of immeasurable value to me, both in my career as a land use attorney and later Managing Partner of a regional law firm, and in my diverse civic endeavors.
Today, many coming out of school, into the job market, or starting at their first job, begin with relatively few contacts. In recent years I have been meeting regularly with many younger workers and graduates to talk about networking strategies. Many studies suggest that decisions on who to hire or advance in a job are based, in part, on personal references and relationships. Given this, developing a tailored network is highly recommended for your personal fulfillment and career advancement. While there are likely dozens of books, articles and how-to sites that may provide guidance, I will offer you a few practical pointers, based on my own experience and observations.
1.Be clear on your goal. There are many choices on where and with whom to spend your time, and what relationships may be most useful. Without a fairly clear idea of what you are trying to achieve, it is hard to develop a strategy and action plan to guide you. Therefore a clear goal and blueprint for how to achieve this goal is a necessary first step.
2. Success is assured unless energy fails. This adage may be old, but is VERY TRUE. What you get out of your time and energy devoted to networking is directly related to what you put into it, in terms of careful thinking and smart choices. Be strategic and don’t underestimate the need to network in a very strategic way. You need to put a sustained time commitment to networking. Try and link your networking to what you enjoy or are interested in – it makes everything more rewarding.
3. Identify issues and topics in an industry or region and join groups, meetings or committees on these topics. This is where you start to engage people who share similar interests and goals. These people will be your circle for a particular issue/industry. Just showing up and shaking hands is a great first step. Get to know the issues and the people around the table.
4. Start to lead – In whatever group or committee you affiliate yourself with, become an activist volunteer from Day One. This will make it more interesting for you, and will bring attention and interest to working with you. Do your homework, it will serve to accelerate your interpersonal and leadership skills. Write articles, give speeches – put yourself out there.
5. Organize and Strategically Manage your new contacts. Don’t just throw business cards in a drawer. Organize them. Make a point to circle back periodically to your key contact lists. Send your new contacts interesting concise info and/or links that they will find value in receiving. Invite them to events in your field, or just catching up over coffee. Introduce them to each other.
None of this is rocket science and it is all very doable. Go for it! Over time, these actions should both help you develop your own network, and become a Connector who is valued by all in your large network.