Networking: An Essential Skill in a Successful HR Career (and every other career too)

I did some networking today. I reached out to Sharlyn Lauby, the HR Bartender, and she was gracious enough to call and chat. (You need to put her on your MUST read list. You will find out why she is on most of, if not all, the lists of the best.) We chatted about our businesses, our blogs, what we are trying to accomplish. (This all developed from a post of hers that talked about being willing to share, even with other consultants. A view I hold as well.) In the course of the conversation we talked about people who “network” with us. I put network in quotes because, in reality, that is not what people are doing. They call us because they are looking for a job and someone told them that we “know everyone.” They come looking for job leads or names. We are gracious and help them out and off they go. Often we never hear from them again or sometimes we will get some follow up basically to the tune of “have you found anything for me yet?” Then one day we hear they got a job. So we drop them a note and say congratulations. Some times we get a note back, often we do not. Seldom do we ever get a note saying “I have gone to work. Here is where you can contact me. Thanks for your help. Now what can I do for you.” Often we hear “Oh, I am sorry, now that I have gone to work I just don’t have time to network.” (Is this sounding like a rant?)
Well “I don’t have time to network” should be banished from every HR professional’s lexicon. Networking is an ESSENTIAL TOOL of the HR professional. One of the goals of a true professional is to be a resource to their organization for which they work. You have to be scanning the environment, you have to understand the legal and legislative landscape, you have to know social trends and compensation trends all so you can support the strategic goal of the organization. That is tough to do all by yourself. But there are people out their that know this stuff. There are people out there that are smarter than you. And it is important for you to know who they are and meet them. And they come in very handy if you are looking for work.
Here are my tips for effective networking:

  1. Everytime you ask for help offer some in return. Do NOT be just a Taker. Be a Giver. At the end of a conversation ask the question “How can I help you?” (Hint: Mean it!)
  2.  If you are job hunting, be specific. What are you looking for? Don’t just say “Do you know of any openings?” My response may be “Well I saw a Now Hiring sign at Panda Express.” (True) If you employed and are looking for contacts, suppliers, or information be clear about what you are looking for.
  3. Try to meet someone face-to-face. Just because you have connected with them in Linked In, or Facebook or Twitter does not mean you are networking, as I wrote in Networking is More than just adding a contact on social media.
  4. Follow up. FOREVER. This does not mean that you have to write every day, or once a month, or even once a quarter. But there needs to be some consistant follow up. Think of it as a “drip marketing” campaign. You can even rank your contacts as A, B or C. The “A” contacts you may want to reach out to quarterly. The “B”s every six months and the “C”s on an annual basis. This is based on the importance to you that you keep in touch with them. And you don’t have to write a book. A one line email, a birthday card, a short hand written note or even a voice mail is sufficient just to make contact.
  5. Sharlyn and I agree everyone needs to read Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone and I will add Harvey Mackay’s Swim With the Sharks. These two books are required reading.

Well I will bring my rant to an end. There are many more tips and many experts on networking that are availble to you. Find what works for you. But if you have aspirations of the “C” suite, or of consulting or of just being able to find a job when you find yourself on the street then you had better learn to make networking a life long practice.
Tell me what you think. (BTW, one good way to start networking with people is to leave comments on their blogs. Who knows they might even initiate the contact. Unless of course you are Anonymous.)

11 thoughts on “Networking: An Essential Skill in a Successful HR Career (and every other career too)”

  1. Great thoughts, Mike. No, not a rant: there are thoughtless people out there who are so panicked about their own situations that they fail to implement the lessons their mothers taught them, like "thank you very much".
    As we become more virtually connected, I think it will be even more important to build our social capital, a term I learned a long time ago; long before social media was ever thought of. It is an essential skill for professionals at all levels of an organization. In the new world of work, social capital will be a currency that will be just as important to our employers as it will be to us as independent workers.

  2. Michael,
    First of all, congrats on your FOT ranking. That article actually led me to discover your blog which I’m glad I did.
    Secondly, this is very good article. One I wish I had written myself. But as fate has it, you saved me the time and energy.
    Too often, I have seen folks use networking only to get themselves a job, as opposed to creating relationships. Networking for them is done as an all or none proposition. Thus, your fourth point may be the most important point. Networking is about maintaining contact and being helpful when you can; it’s not about collecting names, or keeping a scorecard, or turning it on when you need something and off when you don’t.
    I’m glad you ranted about this.

  3. Mike – it was an absolute pleasure chatting with you today. I'm so glad you wrote about this! As Barbara mentions, in this age of social media, it's more important than ever to stay connected.

    People who only use networking to ask for favors will quickly find themselves 'out of favor' with the community. Sorry, no pun intended.

  4. Mike, I am now considering myself a "born again Networker". As I recover, I can't tell you how many times in my past I have meet people, thought only about myself, and would then loose touch with them because they didn't have something to be able to provide me – just to do exactly what you have written about and try to rely on them when I needed help the most. Looking back, this was a very, very sad state of affairs! More recently, I have found myself out of work again, but this time I am learning the wonders of "the givers gift". I have found so many more energizing opportunities this time around, and how much more vibrant the people whom I network with are to me – all because I help people. I can't tell you how many people are stuck in the same frame of mind that I used to be in. If you are reading this, please DO NOT be like I was!!! I cant tell you how much happier I have been by at the very least making my networking connections a two way street. My testament to your statements Mike are this: The true power of networking (or in humanity) is in the giving, not in the recieving. Thank you so much for the information that you have blogged about, I wish that I had read it a long time ago. If there is ever anything that I may be able to share/do for you, please let me know. For this post, you get an "AMEN!", and a "Hallelujah!"

  5. "Follow up FOREVER" is terrific advice Mike. I used to be able to tell when people were about to ask me for help by a LinkedIn invitation. The reality is that most people network out of desperation only after they realize they need assistance. The "drip marketing" strategy is a good one but I don't know if it needs to be that clinical. The bottom line is that we all benefit from one another (and often in ways that aren't immediately apparent). Great post.

  6. HI MIke:

    Great post and I have found during this recession, that I fill like a lottery winner as so many people I used to know are ringing me up about. And after my initial, "I can't believe this" I finally got the point that you are making. HR folks are terrible networkers. Our company has been to several HR conferences and I have watched as HR professionals will almost do anything not to stop by a booth or join in the after hours networking event. It is a critical skill as you say, and not one that is just used when you are out of work. Another good read and good take on the subjet is Bob Littel's Netweaving. Cheers!

  7. Such an important reminder Mike. Networking is a conversation, not a monologue. I always try to imitate two great networkers, Jason Seiden and Mark Stelzner. When you talk with either of them, the first thing they say is often "what can I do to help you?" They don't ever ask for anything in return. When I hear people use this approach on me, it makes two things happen. First, I want to help them too. Second, I'm inspired to go help someone else.

    The only way to do well in this world is by building strong relationships. Everyone should take heed.

  8. Hi Mike – loved your use of “A”, “B” and “C” contacts – I use a CRS for keeping my contacts and notes straight for business “networking”, may be a bit OTT, but this kind of segmentation is also what they are great at!!

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