Question of the Month: November 2008

Question: “I’ve lost touch with a lot of my friends and former colleagues over the years and now need realize I need to build my network back up. What groups in the Puget Sound area would be the best ones for me to get involved with?”

Without a doubt, the lack of a healthy, vibrant network of relationships continues to be the single greatest common denominator I see that separates the people who find jobs easily from those people who are at risk of being out of work for a lengthy period of time. What I’ve found interesting, however, is that many of the folks I meet who are suffering from “network anemia” are not as anti-social as one might initially suspect; instead, they usually turn out to be individuals who have been so focused on doing a great job at work, and being loyal to their employer, that they just didn’t make the time to keep in contact with people outside of the office! Unfortunately, as admirable as these loyal intentions are in some ways, many of these folks are now facing the consequences of this old-paradigm thinking.

Regardless of the reasons or rationale, if you’re somebody who feels that your web of “social capital” needs some fortification, you’ll definitely want to allocate a healthy chunk of your job hunting time to getting out of the house and meeting new people. Luckily, there are thousands of different associations, groups, social clubs, and other networking venues in the Seattle area that can help you make fresh acquaintances. You’ll find the single greatest list of these groups at http://www.iloveseattle.org, if you haven’t discovered this site previously — and most of the local media outlets (i.e. Puget Sound Business Journal, Washington CEO, Seattle Times, etc.) also have community and business calendars on their websites that you can use to track down some suitable networking opportunities, as well.

Beyond these tips on how to find some appropriate groups, however, let me share five other guidelines that might help you operate more effectively and efficiently on the networking circuit:

1) Don’t go to any event solely to your network. I know, I know. This advice seems contradictory , at first, but in all honesty most people don’t fare very well when their only motive for going to a function is to force themselves on people for networking purposes. It’s usually far more productive, instead, to attend meetings where you actually care about the subject matter being presented and view the educational component of the meeting as your main focus. You therefore might target events related to professional subjects that truly interest you (e.g. the latest trends in business intelligence software) or opt, instead, for attending functions related to your personal passions (e.g. your neighborhood watch association or a talk on digital photography) — but either way, you’re likely to enjoy yourself more and make more genuine connections if you’re not attending functions strictly to press the flesh.

2) Don’t limit yourself strictly to networking-focused events. On a related note to the one above, I’d also encourage people to stretch their horizons beyond events such as job search support groups, chamber of commerce functions, small business networking breakfasts, and the like that are primarily intended to facilitate networking. While such events certainly have the potential to produce quality results, on occasion, they also tend to be populated mostly with other people in transition — or with salespeople aggressively trying to drum up leads for their business. These populations aren’t always the most useful or reciprocal from a Rolodex-building standpoint, so I’d advise people to not limit their networking efforts strictly to these types of groups. Make sure to diversify your networking calendar to include community gatherings, hobby club meetings, social events, charitable functions, and similar meetings where you’re likely to encounter a richer and more receptive mix of people, on average.

3) Test the waters. Just like every company, every professional association and networking group has its own personality and “culture” of sorts. Additionally, some groups charge a pretty hefty fee for attendance or membership. So before committing to any particular group on a permanent basis, attend one of their upcoming events on a trial basis to check the chemistry and see if it feels like an organization that you’d want to frequent, going forward. You might end up paying a little extra up front to attend a function, if you’re not a member, but it’s worth it — since in most cases, you may need to “date” a couple dozen groups before you decide which ones you want to commit to on an ongoing basis!

4) Connect with the connectors. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with mingling with folks randomly at various events, the savviest networkers bring a little more strategy to the party. They review the guest list in advance (if one exists) in order to identify the key people they want to meet — or they seek out the officers and organizers of the group in question, recognizing that such folks are pretty gregarious, in most cases, and are also in a position to know the group’s membership list the best and serve as a great source of useful introductions!

5) Take the plunge and get involved! Last but not least, once you’ve found a group or two that really fits your needs, and your personality, you should consider stepping up to the plate and volunteering to serve the group in some capacity. Join a committee. Help plan the events. Be a table captain. In short, don’t just “take” from the group but actively try to give back, as well. Usually the extra time commitment required pays off in terms of increased visibility, and will also lead to deeper relationships than you’d get by simply attending the group’s functions every month or so as an innocent bystander.

At the end of the day, regardless of how you go about doing it, “getting involved” is the most critical key to career success — since the marketplace continues to reward interpersonal trust and connectivity as much (or even more) than functional talent. So if you’re not as connected as you once were, or know you need to be, start applying the advice above as soon as possible! Relationships may not get formed overnight, but the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll have a new cadre of career allies to count on…

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