The “Mutual Funds” of Networking

Sure, you might be networking like a fiend out there, maxxing out your Starbucks card and forging dozens of new individual relationships each week.  But as we find 2010 approaching, right around the corner, I’d ask whether you’re devoting all of your networking bandwidth solely to the process of adding new contacts — or whether you’re investing time developing relationships with new communities, as well.

Communities are a ‘force multiplier’ when it comes to the networking process.  And there are hundreds of thousands of them out there, if not more.  You’ll find communities built around shared religious faith.  Or centered around the achievement of humanitarian goals, political aims, or non-profit missions.  Or comprising a brotherhood/sisterhood of professionals in the same field or industry.  Or revolving around the shared enjoyment of a hobby, whether it’s gardening or beer-brewing or ultimate fighting.  And thanks to modern technology, there is also an ever-expanding range of on-line communities (such as LinkedIn Groups) to choose from, all of which can serve as a nice complement to the more traditional mix of organizations that get together on a face-to-face basis.  I’ve heard more and more reports from people that these on-line groups are serving as the catalyst for many helpful connections and interactions.

At any rate, my point again is that savvy networkers should think strategically and seek to strengthen their presence in a number of appropriate groups going forward, in addition to simply seeking to make connections with individual contacts at random.  While both types of relationships can have tremendous value, communities offer certain advantages that can be particularly useful for job hunters.  For starters, once you’ve become accepted into a community, you can usually reach out to ANY other member of that community and expect a fairly warm reception.  You don’t necessarily need a referral to the person or some brilliant “cover story” to initiate contact.  The common bond of the community takes care of this.  Additionally, communities usually provide a steady and predictable outflow of communication, encouragement, and moral support to their members in transition, and can also offer structured resources such as membership databases and job boards that can be leveraged to significant advantage.

If it helps, think of the community-cultivation strategy as akin to investing in a series of relationship “mutual funds” instead of simply speculating on a few individual stocks.  By diversifying your relationships in this manner, you’ll likely achieve a greater return over the long run.  Or at least will enjoy much greater peace of mind in knowing you’ve got a safety net of good friends and acquaintances you can fall back on, if needed.  Frankly, my gut feeling is that economic recessions are a lot more psychically damaging to people than they used to be, simply because of the erosion in community involvement that used to help people weather these situations.  As Robert Putnam commented in his social science masterpiece, Bowling Alone, we (Americans) have “become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures” and now tend to live aloof lifestyles, characterized by cocoons of isolation.  This definitely is not a recipe for success, confidence, and comfort when one is faced with career adversity.

Personally speaking, while I feel privileged to have developed relationships with a few thousand people here in the Seattle area, I’m equally comforted by the number of groups, associations, and organizations that I’ve become affiliated with, as well.  Just recently, in fact, I was granted “associate member” status by the Financial Executives Networking Group (FENG), a worldwide networking organization for CFOs, Controllers, and other senior-level finance professionals.  The Chairman of this fine group of folks, Matt Bud, writes some of the most compelling job search articles I’ve ever seen (you’ll find his blog here) and in return, I wanted to see if any of my blog content might be useful to the FENG membership.  Long story short, Mr. Bud published one of my articles in the FENG newsletter late last week, and within 24 hours I was stunned to receive at least 40 positive e-mail messages from members of the group, complimenting my material and inviting me to lunches, coffees, sailing trips, and/or homecooked meals if I ever found myself in their neck of the woods.  It was a MIND-BLOWING reminder of the value of community.  Here were these total strangers, willing to lend a helping hand and a hearty pat on the back, simply because I was now part of the “family”.

I’m sure you have your own similar stories, too.  If not, this coming year might be the time to accumulate some — and to enhance your individual networking plan with the cultivation of some appropriate community affiliations.  There’s certainly no shortage of groups you could target, and as stated above, I’ve become increasingly convinced that a great networking “portfolio” must include these kinds of organizations within it.  They’ve got a special magic to them that individual interactions can’t quite replicate!

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