Do you ever feel like you have lots of contact names from networking, your current job, and life in general, but you don’t know how to leverage them? It can be difficult to think of ways to approach them, or even what you want to approach them for.
The chief thing for us to remember is that a network is important not because of what we can ‘get’ from our contacts, but because of who, and what, they can introduce us to. Leveraging contacts is about adopting the right attitude to your network. Here’s a breakdown of what this means in practice.
1) Get to know your contacts
It’s infinitely easier-and fairer-to ask your contacts for help if you actually know them well. Many of us believe networking is about collecting a mass of contacts. In truth, this is not a useful attitude to have when it comes to building a beneficial network.
What’s really valuable is how well connected we are to our contacts. The tighter, and more personal, the bond between you and each contact, the more valuable it is.
Instead of collecting ever more business cards, be interested in those people you already know. Who are they? What are they interested in, what’s their educational history, their quirks? Do you know their family, where they live?
It is only by being curious about the detail of people’s lives that you can begin to have a useful, and valuable, connection.
Can you pick up the phone at any time, and ask one of your contacts almost anything, and get some sort of positive response? If not, you do not have a close enough relationship with them, and they are not a useful contact. They are merely someone else in your database.
2) Treat contacts with respect
If we treat our contacts like scalps, or notches on the bedpost, our message to them is that we do not value them highly.
Instead, we should treat our contacts as potential allies. Nurture them and aid them. Really get to know what they want, not just tell them what we want. Ideally, your message to your contacts is that you are there to support and help them.
Once you are treating them this way, they will respond in kind.
3) Give as well as take
Getting to know what your contacts want is a big part of treating them right and so is actually making the effort to help them with what they want. Once they’ve told you what they’re looking for, really think about how you can help.
Do you know anyone who would be beneficial to this person? Could you use your own skills and expertise in some way, be it by doing something for your contact, or showing them how to do something?
Once you’ve done a contact a favor that’s meaningful to their ambitions, they won’t forget it. Once you’ve done them many such favors, they’ll actively want to help you out too. If someone’s bought you hundreds of gifts, you kind of start thinking that you’d like to buy them a gift in return.
4) Work out what you want
Before approaching a contact, get clear on what it is you want from them. What type of job are you seeking? What sort of boss are you looking for? Once you’re clear on these things, approach the contact you think is most likely to be able to help you based on your preferences.
It’ll be much easier to communicate to them what you want, once you know what you want. You may well be asking, “And how exactly do I work out what I want?” You probably want to do something that you’re good at and that you enjoy. So make a list of your strengths and your passions and work out from there which careers, which work environments, which organizations match up to those.
You’ll also need to consider constraining factors, such as financial requirements, childcare restrictions, travel issues, or whatever applies to your own life.
5) Communicate clearly
It’s not only important to be clear about what you’re asking your contacts for, but also to communicate it clearly. Have you ever been approached by someone in your network who was not really sure what they were asking you for, but instead just rambled on about vague ideas and plans they had? Frustrating, isn’t it? Make sure that you are clear and concise in your conversation with your contacts and give them a direct description of what you’re looking for.
6) Think about what to ask for
This is all very well, but what exactly are you asking them for? A job? An introduction? Opinions? Ask your contacts for whatever you want, just make sure you’re asking the right contacts. If you want to ask a contact if they know of any jobs going, be sure to ask a contact who has their own contacts within the specific industry or organizations you’re interested in.
If you’re asking them for an introduction, then they obviously have to know someone who’ll it be worth you being introduced to. If you’re asking a contact for their opinion, then they should be knowledgeable about what you’re asking about.
7) Don’t rule anyone out
Even though it’s important to choose suitable contacts, you shouldn’t necessarily exclude anyone just because you don’t think they’ll be able to help you. This mainly applies to those contacts you don’t know so well yet. If you know that a certain contact is connected to the industry you’re interested in, then obviously it’s better to talk to them than to a contact that isn’t connected to that industry at all.
But what if you don’t know which industries a particular contact is involved with? If you get to know that contact better, they may surprise you with what they can suggest to help you out, once they know you well. Based on their newfound understanding of you, they may know exactly the person you should speak to in order to open up options suitable to you, your personality, and your circumstances.
To get to a position where you can effectively use your contacts to find a job, you have to work really hard to get to know them. It’s about connecting with your network, not growing it obsessively.
Nisa Chitakasem is the founder of Position Ignition – a careers company dedicated to taking you to the next step in your career.