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Building your network

For many HR professionals thrown into the jobs market, their personal network becomes a vital lifeline to finding new employment. But how should you best manage your network, how can you engage your contacts' support and avoid becoming a burden or a person to avoid.

To stand out from colleagues (for a promotion or just to get projects done) or candidates (for a job), you need to develop a personal ‘brand’ and a loyal fan base.
Few of us think of our contacts as a fan base, but they are and support us in business or social contexts. Whatever your current goal or challenge, consider which of your contacts could help.

Map out your network (you’ll be surprised how big it is) and consider the gaps (the individuals you don’t know, or know well, but would like to include). We’ve come across some great HR professionals who are very strategic in their approach to building their networks. They take stock of their contacts and plan the next points of contact with them. Some write these plans down; others retain the plans in their heads. Whatever the approach, by planning ahead, these people manage to:

•    Keep up to speed with the changes in that contact’s life/business
•    Offer an opportunity or something else of value that the contact will benefit from
•    Maintain regular contact to keep themselves ‘front of mind’ and follow up any meetings or networking events that they have had with them

The time and effort involved in this usually means that the most successful HR professionals usually preside over relatively small networks. Size isn’t the key here, quality is. 
To be able to plan and manage your contact base effectively, it’s important that you:

  1. Fill it with the people you will be able to help and vice versa
  2. Ensure it represents a manageable number for you to keep in touch with

You may find your current contacts can help, or you may find that you need to meet the prospective contact at an industry, business or social event.  If it would help, consider using social networking vehicles such as LinkedIn to see if a contact will meet for a discussion, or is available for a call.

One unwritten rule is, when interacting with your contacts, avoid being seen as always asking for favours.  If you are constantly ‘taking’, people’s support soon evaporates.  Instead, think of ways you can help them and, if you don’t know how, invest time to understand their current goals and aspirations. When someone helps us in an appropriate and valuable way we never forget it and often feel the need to reciprocate.  

Building a network is both an exciting and challenging feat that is always in a state of development.  Social networking technology means we can forge relationships very quickly with large numbers of people.  However, face-to-face and personal human contact still counts for a great deal – especially in business.  Emailing and even telephone conversations can only say and reveal so much.  

Often more in-depth relationship building discussions can only be had when we’re physically with someone, whether that context is coffee, lunch, an informal meeting or dinner. The more you can get in front of your contacts, the more chances you’ll have to impress and help them achieve their business or personal goals.  Remember to aim for quality over quantity. Focus on those where the chemistry is right and you feel that there is mutual benefit from staying in touch.

And finally, if you’re looking to expand your contact base through networking or industry events, here are five tips to help you.

1.    Don’t attend events willy nilly – remain selective, remembering the contacts who are valuable in your particular sector or market

2.    Check attendance lists beforehand and identify particular contacts to speak to (think quality over quantity). Conduct some research on those targets to give you relevant conversational topics 

3.    Steer the conversation to your contact and their interests. There is no need to push yourself, but do practise articulating a concise summary of who you are and what you do

4.    Try and establish a reason to keep in touch – something of mutual interest, a mutual contact perhaps

5.    Follow up with a note or email within 48 hours, even if only to express how much you enjoyed meeting them and always do what you said you would do.  If there is good reason to keep in touch, add the name to your diary, planner or ‘to do’ list and ensure you implement the action you set.

John Timperley at The Results Consultancy