Networking – the art of doing unto others

“You have to make your friends before you need them.” These are wise words from a wise man, Robert Johnson, former CEO of Black Entertainment Television, an enterprise worth over 4 billion dollars. That is the best definition of networking I have ever heard.

 

Some people may think that this sounds like manipulation; making friends so that you can use them later. But I don’t think he meant it to be interpreted that way. To me, it just makes sense to get to know people around you, be a good friend to your colleagues in your workplace and your industry and then, if the need should arise, you will have a support group who can return the favors you’ve done for them. Rather than networking being a selfish pursuit, it can be a selfless one.

 

Take the case of a man I know who has the best network of anyone I know. He sold his business several years ago and could have taken his money and retired in style. Instead, he has spent the last few years helping people. Whether it is a charity or an individual looking for advice on a career change, he takes the time to get personally invested.

 

He makes introductions between people with symbiotic needs. He attends committee meetings to help organize civic and professional events. And yes, he donates money for good causes but he is truly valued because he takes a personal interest in the things he does and the people he touches. Because of this, he is seen as one of the most influential people in the community.

 

“Oh, but he has all the time in the word. He’s retired!” you say. Perhaps. But take the case of another colleague I’ve watched for years. He is a hard working professional, who has always made time for people who have asked him for advice about how to find a job in his industry. As a devoted family man, he doesn’t have the luxury of meeting people after hours to network. As a result, he might meet them before work or during lunch, to listen to their story and do what he can to help. If they seem talented, he might make a phone call on their behalf, to introduce the job hunter to another colleague who might have a lead or a job. He might spend some time going over the resume, to make an improvement or two.

 

So what’s in it for him? As I’ve watched his career grow over the years, it’s clear that his network has served him well. When he’s gotten restless in his job, he simply put the word out and he was the first to hear about positions, before they were made public.

His list of references is impressive. Everyone he’s helped is lining up to help him.

 

These two men understand that smart networking doesn’t mean making cold calls to perfect strangers to ask for help. They realize that networking isn’t something you start on the day you need something.

 

But what if you’re a little late figuring that out and you just lost your job? The next best thing is to use a second tier approach. (But consider this your wake up call and start building your network now, before you need it next time.)

 

The second tier approach involves calling all the people who are your friends and acquaintances and telling them what you need. These people may not be professional colleagues but it’s a good place to start. Keep it simple. Ask if they know anyone in your field and then ask if you can use his or her name as a referral when you call the associates they mention. Ask if they will look over your resume and give you advice. Ask if they have any contacts in a certain corporation, for which you’d like to work.

 

During your meetings with these contacts, to whom you’ve been referred, ask about their jobs and personal lives (if it’s appropriate) and listen hard to discover if there is anything you can do for them. For example, during the meeting, if your new contact mentions that he is working on a difficult new project, do a little searching on the Internet and send him a note or email with some appropriate links to information or seminars on the topic. Your new contact will be impressed and thankful. If you “make friends before you need them,” you will never be struggling to network again.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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