Networking is the best way to find a job, and it’s easier than you think. Your best reference are the people who like you and can endorse your abilities.
An architect I’ve known for many years called me up the other day to meet with him, a builder, and two other architects for an afternoon “training meeting” at a local bar. From our first meeting seven years ago, I have gotten to know the architect through lunch-and-learns, phone calls, informal lunches and just stopping to say hello.
The relationship began when he referred me for several odd jobs. Today, I can count on him for a continual stream of qualified referrals, meetings with other industry professionals and information about potential and existing clients.
My relationship with this particular architect blossomed after I learned he lived in my neighborhood and that we had many common interests.
There is a national lighting consultant in our area whom I play racquetball with when he’s in town. He and his wife have gone out to dinner with me and my wife. In fact, he invited us to sit at their table at the local American Institute of Architects Awards, which they sponsor. Is this a networking relationship? You bet, but more important, it’s a friendship.
Good networking can make the difference between a flourishing business and one struggling to survive. It is an ongoing process that takes years to cultivate.
Unfortunately, some people look at networking as building up a set of artificial relationships; that its sole purpose is to fulfill the business purpose of sharing and trading information. However, your network is really a circle of friends. The relationships are real and based on authentic interpersonal connections.
You build your network the same way you look for new friends: at social situations, industry events and parties. While working on a project, you should look for people with whom you feel a natural connection. You should believe that you have something to offer and they have something to offer you. Each side can offer almost anything: industry information, connections, a laugh, knowledge on the community you are trying to get into, gossip. All that is important is that you like each other and that each has something to offer.
There are many ways to build and gauge relationships. This is life, and people come and go. But I’ve found it is better to have a great network with a few people than a mediocre network with 500. Do not be afraid to prioritize. When meeting people, take an active, genuine interest. Ask questions and listen carefully. You must be enthusiastic–people respond when you are truly excited about something. You will find a natural segue into many facets of that person’s life. In all cases, behave like the professional you are and seek out others with similar professional values. If you demonstrate a high standard of trustworthiness, people will be drawn to you and will want to help.
These are all very basic tips, but we often forget the basics of networking as we get swept up in the complexities of running a business.
John Baumeister is president of Baumeister Electronic Architects, based in Niles, Ill.