CAREER DEVELOPMENT / APR. 04, 2014
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How to Turn a Stranger into a new Professional Ally

Networking is a paramount tactic to accelerate and advance your career progress as well as find a job. Effective networking involves long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with the ‘right’ people who can help you expand your sphere of influence and excel in your career. This is why networking should not stop when you sign out from LinkedIn or when you leave for home after a conference.

Precious contacts exist everywhere in your social circle. They can be your colleagues’ siblings, people sitting next to you on airplanes or people you come across at a gathering. The key is to make these people valuable network contacts that will make a significant positive impact on your professional life.

Here are several useful steps to help you turn these people into new network contacts:

#1 Identify Diverse but Good Contacts

An effective professional network consists of a variety of people, including individuals from different industries. The key issue is how do you distinguish whether a person is worth being added in the list of your professional network? Well, this is more about instinct than logic. Career expert Liz Ryan says "You've got a certain style and approach, and people who are comfortable with you and with whom you're comfortable will make up your A-list for network cultivation".

Find people who are passionate about their area of expertise and who are also interested in what you are doing. If you see that these people have their own networks, don’t miss the chance to tap into them and forge new relationships that will help you seek new career opportunities, develop knowledge resources, and accelerate your professional development. 

#2 Manage Your Contacts

Given that relationships and network contacts are catalysts for success, you should know how to effectively managing them. Start with managing the business cards you receive. If you are for example at a business conference and you receive a tone of business cards, jot down quick memory-aid notes on the rear side of the cards, so when you enter the contact in your digital address book, you are able to refer back to the details of the contact and where you met them.

Then, right after you add a new person into your address book, send a brief "Great to meet you" email -- with a note about your conversation and a brief follow-up.

#3 Offer Value

Effective networking does not merely involve getting something from your network. It is a two-way process based on good will. You should strive to show that you have something valuable to offer and that you are a promising asset in their career development. Therefore, every time you talk to a new contact, be considerate by asking what he is working on at the moment, so that you get an idea of the problem your contacts are trying to solve.

In turn, consider how you could provide them with new clients or interesting products and even contacts that could crucially sort out their problem. Make yourself memorable and win your contacts by showing them how your expertise, knowledge and extensive network can add value to their everyday problems.

#4 Stay in Touch

Trying to record and attract new contacts is a lost art if you let relationships lapse. An effective networker is committed to keeping his contacts engaged and seeks to be continuously active both offline and online. This should not take a lot of time. For example if you have read an interesting article or an inspiring book, just share the link (or a quote ) on a contact’s personal inbox or profile so that he benefits from it.

Participate in networking events or industry conference and find out how you can get more involved. Also, if you have something worth communicating, update your blog, invite other members to join and create awareness about things that interest them. Keep them fascinated with fresh ideas, latest trends and news in their industry and interact with them with comments, likes, shares etc.

#5 Get Back From Your Network    

If you have been consistent in maintaining connections with your network, asking a contact to introduce you or do you a favour for you will seem less like a nuisance.  

A good idea to get results effectively is to address your requests to the appropriate people that have the right expertise or contacts to deal with your request. Avoid sending your entire network a message saying “My catering firm is accepting new partners to join forces with”. Instead send a personalised message targeted to the right people and communicating a tangible value. For example you may write an email describing your expertise in organising wedding receptions and ask for an introduction to a contact in the hospitality industry.

Be concise and specific with your requests and don’t bother people or take it personally if someone isn’t able to help you. It might not up to him to help you. Don’t forget to show your gratitude to a contact who manages to help you and find ways to reciprocate in a similar way so that your relationship will grow even stronger.

All in all, networking is vital in helping you achieve your career or business goals. The best way to turn people you don’t even know personally into strategic network contacts is to connect well with individuals who might share a common goal and interest with you, market yourself as someone who can be a valuable asset and keep the relationship real and vivid in the long run.

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