In order to understand what successful networking is, it is important to understand what it is NOT. Though experts will tell you that networking is spontaneous, unplanned and all about getting what you want, nothing could be further from the truth. Networking is an on-going, conscious effort to creat reciprocal relationships. Effective networking is an intentional long term relationship. Networking is a process.
There are five basic steps in the networking process.
1. Determine what you want to achieve. Is there a specific skill that you want to learn? Perhaps you want to learn about opportunities being offered, gain visibility or find new contacts. You may want to learn a new skill to increase your chances of promotion. Focus, have a goal in mind on the end product.
2. Know whoís who and who is out there. Find out about the organizational structure. Make a list. Start with the co-workers that you feel comfortable with. This is your inner circle. Gradually include those people outside of your circle. Determine the inner circles of your inner circle. The people that you deal with on a frequent basis have circles of their own. Determine who will be your key contact in all of your circles.
3. Determine how others can help you. Networking has specific functions. These functions include teaching, informing, advising, connecting and nurturing. Your contacts will fill each of those roles for you. Some of your contacts will help you to master skills and practice. Some of your contacts will keep you informed on whatís happening inside and outside the organization.
4. Weigh the odds. How much of an effort are you going to make in terms of time and energy? Building a successful network takes time and time is valuable. Stamina and mental energy are important. You also need to consider the monetary implications of networking. Often times you may need to join professional associations, attend meetings outside of the workplace, or even entertainment.
5. Networking involves reciprocity. The people that offer their time, energy, money and commitment should expect the same in return. Itís all about what you have to give back. Examine your own knowledge, skills and abilities to determine how you can best fill their needs. What are some of the things that you might be able to offer? They may be interested in members of your circle, so an introduction may be in order. You can also offer to assist by providing ideas, reducing their workload, volunteering and, most importantly, sharing your expertise.
While the process of networking is on-going, always start with a goal in mind. Whether itís a desire for promotion, to expand your knowledge or whatever the reason, remember that it takes a lot of work to make networking work for you.