Network with Intention - 7 steps to networking nirvana

The vast majority of jobs nowadays, 70-80% of them, are filled as a result of networking. In other words, they do not get advertised or go through a recruitment consultancy. That makes the ability to network a key skill to master if you want to find work. Yet, in my career work with people, it's amazing how many don't realise the importance of building an effective network. In this recession the saying “it's not what you know, it's who you know” has never been more true.

What's more, if you're self employed, you face the same challenge! Most work is found as a result of contacts rather than winning tenders. The message is clear – you fail to network at your peril.

So what are the key steps to do this? In this article, I will summarise seven steps to maximise the impact of your networking activities. If you want to build a stronger network, read on...

1. Get clear on your intention

What is it you want to get through networking? Are you looking to build your professional knowledge? Do you want to make more networking contacts? Are you looking for a career change to a new sector? Get clear on your intention. Otherwise, you risk doing lots of networking that leads to nowhere. Networking doesn't come that naturally to most of us. If that is the case with you, focus your networking efforts in the direction you want to go.

2. Build on what you've got

Start networking with the people you already know, and build from there. It's worth making a list of people you know, and remember to include people who might not work in the areas you want to. After all, they may have contacts who could help you, if only you'd tell them what you're after. Most people underestimate the size and strength of network they already have, and so fail to exercise it. Include your friends and relatives too – they will be more than willing to help if they can, but will only do so if asked!

Starting with people you already know also gives you the chance to network in a safe environment to build up your skills in networking. Then you can move on to people you know less well, or don't know at all, as you build your contact base.

3. Write to them first

It's a great idea to write to them first, to say that you'd like to meet up. Make clear that you want to find out more about what they do, and that you're thinking about your future career direction. Writing smooths the path, so when you show up, your network contact knows what to expect.

Incidentally, sending a letter is better than sending an email. People are more likely to read, and remember, a letter than an email. After all, the average person gets 3 – 5 letters a day, and 50 – 100 emails. So a letter is remembered more, and is more personal too. Think about it, who is 'sammy1050@googlemail.co.uk?'. Sam MacDonald from Glasgow immediately looks more personal, especially with a signature.

4. Find a way to grab their attention

Get them interested in meeting you! This matters, as most people are busy, and even friends who promise to do things often are busy themselves. When you write, say something about their work or business that you like. Perhaps they or their organisation has been in the news recently, so mention that to them – it will warm them towards meeting you. Another good tactic is to offer them something back in the meeting – an exchange of business contacts, your own knowledge and expertise. People are always looking for new ideas, so highlighting that you're willing to offer advice if helpful might be the thing that gets you a meeting. And a meeting is what you need!

5. Make clear you don't expect a job from them

This sounds daft, but don't go big on the 'I'm looking for a job'. That will virtually guarantee that you wont get a networking meeting. Equally suicidal would be to send a CV with your letter, as that also gives the impression you are touting for a job.

Remember, networking is like dating. You may want eventually to get married and have a family, but it's not a good tactic to go out on a first date and say that. The likely response will be your first date running off! With a first date, your goal is more about finding out about the other person, and what they do. If you make a good impression, you might eventually marry your date's best friend if you weren't quite right for them! However, if you show desperation, other people will smell it from a mile off.

It's the same with networking. Yes, your long term aim is to get a job, build a career or find work. However, the aim of a networking meeting is to find out more about the other person, their business, and to build your network.

6. Follow through, make the next move

Don't wait for other people to come back to you - they will be too busy, and never get round to it. If you've written to them, don't wait for them to phone you. Phone them, and ask for a meeting. Once you've met, again take the initiative – write to say thank you, and follow up in a few weeks time.

I'm not suggesting you stalk them, but stay in contact. It also shows you are organised and motivated, and those are two qualities you want to show to get work.

7. Use meetings to get further contacts

It's vital to use your networking meetings to get referrals. While your networking contact is talking to you, make a note of areas where you'd like to find out more. Then simply ask who they could refer you to, so you can find out more about that area. Take the names and follow up with a letter, making clear you've been referred to them - you now have another person to network with. Who do they know who could help? In this way, you build your network. In any meeting, aim for at least two new contacts that you can get in touch with.

Getting yourself liked, known and trusted is a great way to move forward. The best way to do that is to develop your network so you are known, liked and trusted by many people. Sooner or later, one of them will offer you a job, or refer you to someone with a recommendation.

Good luck!