30 May 2015 14:41 IST

Networking: the key to leveraging opportunity

Call, mail, share … and in the process expand your presence online and offline

There are two huge opportunity areas which any student or for the matter anyone can leverage successfully. These opportunities are largely enabled thanks to technology in terms of smart phones and the internet.

Yet, most are either unaware of this opportunity or indifferent to it. If any student were to understand these opportunity areas and leverage the same, success is a definite outcome.

Let me start with the biggest and most obvious opportunity -- Networking. However, before that let us understand what is networking and how it will help.

Web of contacts

Network is nothing but an extensive web of contacts which can be tapped into for a wide spectrum of things starting from information, to introductions and so on. There is a theory called as “3 Degrees of separation” which is one of the basic premises of the professional networking site LinkedIn. This concept states that we are all interconnected through three levels of contacts. If a person can reach out through these three levels, they can establish contact with almost anyone in the world. Essentially it boils down to “A friend of a friend of a friend”.

While Indians are naturally inclined to networking because of our social structure, increasingly this is falling by the wayside due to the changing norms and life styles. Therefore, everyone is comfortable interacting with only friends and networking is ignored. Unfortunately, when the person tries to reach out to someone for a favour, it does not fructify because it is blatantly opportunistic.

There are some simple guidelines for building a powerful network successfully and also maintain the same. However, this needs to be done continuously and in a sustained manner. Trying to do this in fits and starts would actually do more harm than good.

1. Reach out for professional contacts instead of only social contacts.

2. Give a clear and genuine reason why you want to connect with the person you are trying to network with.

3. Network for contacts, to be in touch, information, guidance, etc., initially. You can always ask for a favour later on. If you try to connect with someone and the next second ask for a favour, it will not work.

4. Be in touch; Call, Mail, Share. Having a large number of contacts most of whom don’t remember you is of no use. However, don’t bombard them with forwards of jokes. That is not keeping in touch; it is SPAM.

Beware the pitfalls

Some common pitfalls in networking, especially by students are

* Reaching out only when you need something. I often get a mail from someone I don’t even remember asking for a job. It invariably goes to my SPAM folder or I move it to SPAM. Even if you are my super junior or have worked with me a million years ago, you don’t have the right to suddenly appear and demand a favour. Remember, networking is like a fruit tree. You need to nurture it carefully for many years before you can enjoy its fruits.

* Being abrupt/ rude and overconfident when approaching for a contact. The best example I can share is the LinkedIn invites. Sending out a preformatted two line invite is the best way to be ignored. When reaching out to connect whether by mail or through an online network or phone, always introduce yourself and set the context. It will help establish the initial rapport.

The next BIG opportunity area for any professional is their public presence or brand. Again the internet is a great enabled of this opportunity and sadly underused and misused in many cases.

Let me share an example to drive home this point. A few years ago when I was taking up a new assignment, the background checking could not cross check one of my stints as the earlier organization had been merged and so the old records were missing. When confronted by this, I had a simple solution; the internet.

There was news coverage of a store I had launched with a picture and that was enough for the background check.

Access the Net

While most of us might not have an opportunity to be featured in the media, everyone has access to internet and the wide array of options which can help build you online presence and brand. Some ideas and options are –

1. Blogs: While blogs seem to be going out of fashion it is still an excellent platform for everyone to create an online presence to present their views. Regardless of the topic, a blog showcases a person’s clarity of thought, rational/ logical thinking, communications skills, etc. Essentially, it is like a resume in disguise.

2. Posting valid and relevant comments on news articles helps spread your online presence, especially if you comment with the id and name used for the blog.

3. Social and professional networking sites have a very thin line separating them. A positive presence on both the forums will help in further bolstering one’s online presence. However, you have to keep in mind that search engines can dig out any bit of digital information. As such avoid sharing, posting, liking things which goes against the online presence you are trying to create. While sharing a man-woman joke might get you likes from your friends, it also creates an imagery of being insensitive and chauvinistic.

While chatting, social interactions, music videos, etc., on the internet are great and should be indulged in, anyone going the extra mile to leverage this medium for the ideas mentioned above would see firsthand the benefits from leveraging these opportunities.

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