Monday, April 25, 2011

Five Steps to Building Your Network

by Douglas R. Conant

One morning in the 1980s, I went to the office as usual and was told that my job was being eliminated. I packed up my personal effects and left the building by lunchtime.

I was, of course, in shock. For 10 years, my whole world had consisted of my work with this company and my young, growing family. Now half of that world had disappeared. I was angry and bitter and I felt remarkably alone.

Fortunately, the company set me up with an outplacement counselor who gave me very good advice about building a network — advice that I follow to this day. I not only found a new great job that helped me get my career on track, but I built relationships with hundreds of friends and advisors who have stood me in good stead for decades.

Here's my step-by-step guide to building your own successful network.

Step #1: Identify your network cluster. First, figure out where you want to focus your efforts. Do you want to work for a large corporation, a medium-sized company, or a startup? Are you interested in marketing, sales, manufacturing, IT or any other specific function? What are your geography limitations? Then, create a list of contacts within those parameters — not just executives within a chosen company, but also executive search specialists, consultants, and anyone else who can help within your areas of interest and expertise.

Step #2: Ask for ideas and advice. Contact each person on your list and say, "I was recommended to you by [so-and-so]. I'm hoping to get your ideas and advice for my job search, and would appreciate 15 minutes of your time." During your interview, give them your brief elevator pitch outlining your background and skills, and then ask for their ideas and advice. Remember, this meeting is not about asking for a job. It's about being very sensitive to your interviewee's time, and listening carefully to what they have to say. As the meeting wraps up, ask for names of a couple of people they recommend you talk to. With each interview, you will gain two more leads. Within a few months, you will develop a large number of leads in your areas of interest.

Step #3: Follow up immediately with personal, handwritten thank-you notes to everyone you encountered during the meeting — not just your interviewee, but also to the executive assistant and even the person at the front desk — and mail it the day after your interview. Doing so signals that you are a quality person, that you care, and that you are on top of your game. This is an opportunity for you to establish a distinctive job search — make the most of it.

Steps 4 - 5 and Complete Harvard Business Review Article

Douglas R. Conant is President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company headquartered in Camden, New Jersey. He is the co-author, with Mette Norgaard, of Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments (Jossey-Bass, May 2011).

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