What is networking strategically? It is networking with a defined goal and a strategy to get to that goal. Let’s look at some examples:
- You are unemployed, and you are looking for a job – Your goal might be to get to know the recruiter who handles positions for a company or the hiring manager for current and future positions.
- You are employed but want out of your current company – You probably have the same goal as the unemployed job seeker. BUT you may have to use different tactics because you do not want your current employer to know.
- You are looking into a career change – You want to meet professionals in your new field of choice, with a goal to decide on a new career path.
- You want to move up or laterally in your current company – Your goal might be to meet people and build relationships outside of your current management chain.
In each of these cases, you must communicate your personal brand, your skills, personality, and reputation to someone who can use that information to help you accomplish your goals. But instead of just spreading your personal brand around to anyone who might be able to help you, you’re focusing on building key and strategic relationships and communicating your personal brand to those people.
Define the target
First you need to define the company, organization or industry you want to penetrate. For example, maybe you want to learn more about the marketing function at Jack Widget LLC.
- Identify individuals who work in the marketing function at Jack Widget LLC – Search on LinkedIn for people who currently work for Jack Widget LLC and use a variety of keywords like “Marketing” or “Market Development” or “Business Development”.
- Pick one or more individuals in the list with whom you share a LinkedIn connection – Find someone you know who can provide an introduction.
- Call or e-mail your shared LinkedIn connection – Ask the shared connection, how well do you know the target individual and would you be willing to make an introduction? What you are looking for is a warm lead. Ask the shared connection to send an e-mail or make a phone call to make the introduction. When I make these introductions I use the subject line of Virtual Introduction.
- E-mail the target individual to ask for some “advice” – Advice is the magic word. Ask to set up a visit over the phone or in person to ask for some advice. When you ask for advice, it is a compliment!
- Meet the target individual with a prepared list of questions – Do not share your life story or even your career story beyond what’s needed to clarify why you need advice. Keep the meeting focused on the knowledge base of the target individual. You are there to listen and learn. They will have a much better impression of you if you stay focused on the goal of the meeting, which is to get advice, rather than “pitching” them on the idea of supporting you.
Your goal is to get face time with individuals within the target organization. Ask open-ended questions about the other person. Show an interest in who they are and what they think. Find out whether this is an organization that you want to work for!
Your goal is to establish a relationship which communicates something about your personal brand without hawking it like a used car salesman!
Marc Miller is the founder of Career Pivot which helps Baby Boomers design careers they can grow into for the next 30 years. Marc authored the book Repurpose Your Career: A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers, published in January 2013, which has been featured on Forbes.com, US News and World Report, CBS Money-Watch and PBS’ Next Avenue. Marc has made six career pivots himself, serving in several positions at IBM in addition to working at Austin, Texas startups, teaching math in an inner-city high school and working for a local non-profit. Learn more about Marc and Career Pivot by visiting the Career Pivot Blog or follow Marc on Twitter or Facebook.