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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How to Network Effectively

If you're in the professional world or strive to be in the future, you've heard that "professional networking" is a must. And even if you're not, you must have heard that life is easier with a strong network of people....So, the more people who know about you and your interests, the easier you can move in circles, the easier you can get jobs you want and the more likely you will get invited to all the cool parties.

Like the Igbos say "Onye nwere mmadu, nwere ego". English translation: "A person who has people is rich". True say. True say.

I first heard about the "need" to network my first year of law school. Everyone said it held the magic key to the best jobs. No one had to tell was going to be hard. I don't really consider myself a "people" person, until I get to know them. I know, that's a complicated statement but the truth is, I'm not very good at meeting people for the first time. But if some other way, I get to know a person, out of necessity or chance, it's easy for me to maintain the relationship.

Take for instance, the first networking reception I attended as a law student. They transported all of us first year law students to this big firm in Washington D.C., as was tradition, to "network" with some big shot lawyers. I put myself in a suit and along we went. Along came my first encounter. I was chilling on the rooftop sipping on a glass of sprite, and wondering when I could escape when an aged man walked up to me. I could tell from his badge that he was a partner at the firm. He said "Hi, how are you?". I responded introducing myself. Then....awkward silence. He waited for me to ask questions or make conversation. But I told you, I'm not very good at meeting people. So, I stood awkwardly and smiled praying to God that he would say something or walk away. Awkward silence again. Then, he gave up. He said, "well it was nice meeting you" and walked away.

I wanted the ground to open up so I can fall inside. Epic Fail.

BUT! Take for instance my relationship with a certain law firm in Maryland which I'll call LQU. Summer 2007. I had just finished my third year of college. School was out and I needed a job fast. If not, I was going to go insane staying at home, doing nothing. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer so I knew I had to find a job at a law firm. I had already interned at another law firm during my first and second year summers in college and at a free legal services clinic for credit while in school. But I needed new blood, exposure to new areas of law, variety in my resume and a new challenge.

So! I picked up the phone book and circled all the law firms in my area. I called each one, identified myself and asked if they were hiring. By the time I got to LQU, I had the spent a week making calls, attended two interviews and was getting tired of the "game". But as "networking luck" will have it, when I asked the receptionist at LQU, she said "hold on a second", kept me on hold for about 3 minutes and then gave me an email address to send my resume. Fast forward, one interview and 3 days later, I was hired for that summer. I also worked there the next summer and the next winter break. Then, I went to law school. Throughout, I maintained communication with all the lawyers at the firm and the paralegals and assistants I worked with, by email, by text and the occasional "I was in the area" drop by.

After my first year of law school, I was only getting internship offers which meant unpaid work. While these were good, I kept faith that I could get a job where I could get the same experience but with some kind of money. So, I reached out to one of the lawyers at LQU just to say hi and that I was looking for a job incase they heard of something. He told me to call his law school colleague who was a partner at a firm in DC. This firm hired me that summer as a "law clerk". Then, the next summer as a "summer associate". There, I learned most of the practical aspects I know about the law; I wrote appellate briefs, I attended trials and I met 'people'. These 'people' called me for contract work; to draft legal documents, etc...small work here and there that I did for quick money while I pursued my Masters. Networking worked there!

After I completed my Masters, LQU called me first to ask if I was interested in an opening that will become available in the near future. I said Yes! It hasn't panned out yet. But when it does, it will be just another fruit of effective networking.

But the point of my long story is this-
1. I need to improve the "meeting people" aspect of my "networking".
2. The "keeping in touch" aspect of my networking is up to par. This is evident by the fact that my networking with LQU has "professionally" sustained me since 2007.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate that my weaknesses are not so bad because networking is more than collecting business cards and more about building professional networks. Then again, to build the networks, you must have the business cards. So, there's room for improvement.

If you're struggling with networking, like I do, sometimes, besides the usual seek out and attend networking events in your city, introduce yourself to people at parties and rehearse conversation-started before each event), here are a few tips: 

Help others. It’s not about what a person can give you, but rather what you bring to the table. Have a policy of doing favors for others before ever asking for one. There may not be an immediate benefit, but there may be one down the road. Making a habit of helping people for the sake of building good relationships is good business karma.
Keep in touch. Even if you don’t currently need that person’s professional assistance or services you should maintain a healthy flow of communication. It shows that you care about your connection and it keeps you fresh in the other person’s mind. Others will think about you when they have an opportunity that may be of interest.
Meet on their terms. It’s always good to push for a face-to-face meeting and rely upon a phone call or email as a secondary form of communication. However, it’s important to find out by which method people prefer to be contacted. Some are flooded with emails, others hate texts. Your mode and method of communication can determine how you will be received by a prospect.
Build relationships one by one. There’s no need to grab someone’s carbon copied email list and try to turn it into business leads. Even when mass E-mailing or contacting people on a broader scale, be sure to invite them to contact you back in a more personal way. After all, the only thing worse than stealing contacts is stealing friends, so expand your network without making a mess of your reputation.
Live by these four rules and, over time, your network will grow to a point where you will never need to sell yourself or your company again; your relationships will do all of the work for you while you sit back and reap the rewards.
*Tips were culled from The Washington Post.
Stay Inspired....

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