News & Insight
March 2004

Networking Effectively In Today's Environment

Networking to advance your career is a practice that is built upon nuances. Make too many calls to a prospective contact and you may wear out your welcome; make too few, and you might miss out on an opportunity.

In his career as an advisor to corporate managers, Enrique Garcia, a member of WJM Associates’ executive coaching and assessment faculty, has observed successful and unsuccessful approaches to networking. Here are some excerpts from a recent discussion on the subject with WJManagement Advisor.

How should someone approach networking?

When you call people to network, you’re requesting a favor -- to grant you a few minutes of their time and to share one or more of their business contacts with you. That’s asking a lot, so your tone should express gratitude and appreciation.

What should you say when you call?

If you’re lucky enough to get the person on the line, thank him or her and introduce yourself using your common friend. “John gave me your name and thought you might have some points for me. I’m looking for a position [in a certain field or company, at a certain level, etc.].” After making this brief introduction, ask if this is a good time to speak -- it shows your concern for the person’s schedule -- and offer to call back if necessary. I wouldn’t put any pressure on the people you call because they really don’t have to do anything for you. Just be polite and direct. “Any suggestions you have would be welcome.” Listen actively to what people have to say and take notes. End the conversation by thanking them for their time. You may even want to send a short, handwritten note, if that’s your style.

What about offering to meet for coffee or lunch?

I would avoid that. Some people may feel obligated to meet or guilty if they can’t.

What happens if you reach someone’s voice mail?

Well, it’s best not to leave a message if you don’t have to. Try calling early, before 8:30 in the morning, and just before or after lunch. End of day is not a good time for people rushing to catch the train.

If you have to leave a voice mail message, be brief, be polite and be upbeat. You don’t want to sound frustrated or discouraged at not being able to connect. Leave a short message, “Hi, this is Enrique. I’m a friend of John’s. I’m looking for a certain type of position and John thought you might have some points for me. Here’s my phone number. I hope to hear from you soon.”

Unfortunately, people don’t always call back. They may be traveling, on vacation or just too busy. They might accidentally delete your voice mail message and have no way of reaching you. So if you don’t hear anything for a few days, call back again and leave a follow-up message -- short, polite and to the point. If someone does not respond after two or three calls, leave it alone for a while. That’s an answer in itself -- “I’m busy,” “I’ve got other priorities right now,” or even “I’m not interested.”

What about using e-mail?

That’s another good tool. Many of us are glued to our computers these days. E-mail gives people the option of responding at their convenience. “I tried reaching you a few days ago … I know you are busy … John thinks highly of your opinions … would you have a few minutes to speak … what would be a good date and time for me to call?” If people don’t respond after a couple of e-mail attempts, leave it alone for a while, then try again by phone.

People often hold their best positions for referrals from their friends and colleagues. Knowing how to network effectively in this age of voice mail and e-mail can increase your chances of advancing your career.

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