Peers with whom you’ve previously worked, attended school, or shared a
common purpose can be valuable members of your network. This is because
your shared history provides a ready resource for sharing job intel, references
and referrals, making your investment in the relationship a worthwhile one.
Easier said than done, right? Since you no longer share an
employer and may not even be in the same geographical location, finding
mutually convenient ways to keep in touch is the challenge.
Maintaining a Network Takes Conscious Effort
Even with social media, email and texts (not to mention phone calls),
sustaining productive relationships with former colleagues requires time and
attention. The reality is that this is
true for everyone. Few of us have the mindshare and focus to communicate
regularly with a huge network, but we can respond to opportunities to support
Individuals. Taking the time to comment on posts or on significant personal or
professional events is always appreciated and keeps these relationships alive.
Consciously seeking and taking opportunities to endorse someone takes a little bit more of your time; and providing introductions, references or referrals takes even more. Each of those actions, however, is a surefire way to maintain valuable long-term relationships—and they don’t have to be reciprocated every time to keep the lines of communication open. Consider establishing a regular time and cadence to your network relationship management. A few moments per day, or per week, or per month to be in touch with former colleagues or associates pays dividends on many professional and personal levels—not the least of which is the link between connectedness and emotional health.
Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Fernandina Beach, Florida and Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.
Goal Clarity is Essential When Choosing Professional Organizations
and Associations are another place to build your referral or client
network. A clear goal, the right
organization and smart participation can make your time and/or monetary
investment worthwhile. Most industries
or professions have at least one professional organization and many have a wide
selection of organizations who would love to have you as a member.
Finding the professional organization where you fit best is worth the effort. Be clear about your goal and about what each type of group can offer you. Organizations in your own industry are a source of referrals and can provide continuing education and social opportunities. Organizations that serve your target clients offer opportunities for you to share your expertise and increase your visibility. Being generous with your expertise is a great way to develop new client relationships.
Models of Professional Organization
There are many models for
professional organizations. One model is as a business whose purpose is to
provide education, training, and certification in a specific field. These
organizations work to legitimize the need for the certifications they offer and
to attract new members who will purchase the training to earn these
certifications. They typically have a paid professional staff that
facilitates their efforts and produces conferences that are educational and
offer networking opportunities for their members.
A second model is used by
organizations formed to work on issues that are common to their profession or
industry and advance the collective knowledge. They often publish a
periodical with articles of interest written by or of interest to their
members. Companies who are suppliers to the businesses within the
industry, or of interest to the members of the profession, often sponsor annual
conferences attended by hundreds of members.
A third model is an organization formed solely to allow their members to network. These run the gamut from meet-ups open to the public to those with memberships limited to specific groups. The costs associated with membership range from a small fee to attend each meeting to an annual fee of six figures for a professionally facilitated meeting of CEO’s or business owners.
Making a professional referral is the trifecta of networking. The person you refer is a winner, the person who fills their vacant position is a winner, and you’re a winner. And just like a bet on the ponies, referrals can pose risk.
Providing a Professional Referral
Referring someone for a position you’re not 100% certain they can fill sets up what we might call a reverse trifecta. A referral mismatch disappoints all parties. It can set the referred person up for failure, which may reflect poorly on the person who hired them and can diminish your credibility with your network.
Seeking a Professional Referral
When you’re seeking a professional referral you increase your odds of success if you provide key information, including a careful definition of WHY you’re seeking the referral, clarity about WHAT you have to offer, WHICH company needs your offering, and WHO the decision maker is at your target company.
For example, let’s say you learn in your Linkedin feed that Smith Engines just won a multi-billion-dollar design and manufacturing subcontract for a defense contractor. Your company is in the business of providing aerospace design engineers and has had success augmenting the staff for several other defense contractors. You believe the decision maker at Smith Engines is the Vice President of Engineering. You could certainly figure out who that individual is and place a cold call … but so could every other engineering firm in your space. This is where you leverage your 500-connection network.
A reference is a testimonial of suitability to fill a specific organizational role. When tapped to provide a reference for a colleague who is interviewing for a position, we’re being asked for an honest assessment—a particular challenge if that person wasn’t a top performer when we worked with them.
We’d all like to believe we were top performers in every position we held. If we’re objectively honest, however, there are a multitude of reasons (some that may have been outside our control) this might not have been the case. The same holds true for everyone in our network; so it’s important to give them the same benefit of the doubt we’d like them to give us.
Making the effort to connect
people whose relationship may be mutually beneficial is a habit of all great networkers. The introductions you make add value for all
players—you build your own value to your colleagues and connections, and
simultaneously demonstrate positive regard for members of your network. Making introductions is like corporate
match-making. When we meet a person who
appears to have parallel interests with someone else in our network – we can
determine if each is interested in the connection, then make the
introduction. Our effort compliments both people, regardless of the
One important note: when a
colleague makes an introduction on your behalf, do acknowledge that compliment
by following up with an update. I only
learned how meaningful that update is when I didn’t receive one.
I’d met an accomplished
executive when I added her to my engagement team. She had a deep
background as a subject matter expert in a specific field. As I got to
know her, I realized how important being selected for additional engagements
was to her financially. With her permission, I introduced her to two former
colleagues of mine—one who owns her own firm and often has work she outsources,
and the other a highly sought-after consultant who is often in the position to
refer subject matter experts.