By Laurie Smith
With all of the talk about networking's importance in a job search, it seems that many people tend to focus on the mechanics and quantification of the process. They'll tally how many connections they are able to accumulate on LinkedIn, the number who follow them on Twitter, and business cards they collect at brick-and-mortar networking events. There is a tendency to forget that, just as is the case in our social lives, it is the quality of our relationships that matters more than sheer quantity. So, how do you develop quality networking relationships and make the most of them?
Make It Personal. When we make friends and social acquaintances in our private lives, the spark, the connection, is created when we show we are genuinely interested in that person. We demonstrate that by listening attentively and, when we meet them again, by showing that we recall specifics about them--their interests, likes/dislikes, and miscellaneous details of their lives. It is the same with professional networking relationships. If you have a memory like I do, it makes sense to keep track of information about networking connections in your contact manager, just as professional salesmen routinely do regarding their prospects. Make a note of information such as the number and ages of children they have and what they are doing (starting college, star player on the soccer team, etc.), major home or professional projects they are working on, vacations they are about to take, etc. Then when you send that email or pick up that phone, you'll be able to make that person feel special and know that you value the relationship. Above all, be sure to use your contact's name often. People love to hear their own names, and will inevitably pay more attention when they do.
Be Prepared. When you call or e-mail one of your networking contacts, know in advance exactly what you intend to say. Make it specific, short, and to the point. State your name, remind them of how they know you, make a comment or ask a quick question regarding something they told you last time you spoke. Then give them the specific reason why you are contacting them now and what you want to happen next (e.g., set up a personal meeting, solicit their advice, ask for another referral, call you back at a specific time, etc.).
Convey Your Message Quickly and Succinctly. Don't ramble. Be succinct. Just as is the case with your resume, you have only a few seconds to capture their attention, so make them count. A good way to ensure you do this is to practice leaving your message by calling your own number. Listen to see how you really sound. Do you come across as low energy or vibrant? Do you quickly get your point across or ramble? Plan what you are going to say carefully to make maximum impact in the shortest possible period of time.
Be a Giver, Not a Taker. Develop your networking relationships with a giving and open heart, ready to share with and help others without expectation of return. What you give today will inevitably come back to you at some point down the road. As is said in a great Christian prayer: "It is in giving that we receive."