Networking for career development

LinkedIn, Ecademy, Second Life, Facebook, - we all know about them but which is best for advancing your career?


There may still be a ‘war for talent’ going on out there, but that doesn’t mean the best permanent roles or contract assignments are going to just drop into your lap. Sometimes you need to reach out to that community of former colleagues and bosses, school and university friends, recruitment consultants, etc, that can help you find exactly the right one. But how do you go about it?

Effective networking doesn’t mean boring everyone you meet with how wonderful you are, it’s a question of fitting in with their aims and interests and efficiently communicating how you can fit in with them. Start by developing an ‘elevator pitch’.

This is a film industry term based on the idea that you should be able to sell a movie concept in the time it takes a lift to travel a few floors. In your terms it means a fifteen second summation of who you are, what you do and how it can help the person you are talking to. Elevator pitches should be jargon free and simple enough that your grandmother would understand them immediately. If they fail this basic test, you are wasting your time – grandma knows best!

Remember other people like to talk too rather than sit through your pre-prepared monologue with a glazed expression. Try to find some common ground quickly, show interest and, above all, listen. Finally, always try to agree some sort of follow up. If you think you have developed a rapport, then fix the next step – a call, an email, a meeting – then make sure you do it!

At one time all of this had to be done face to face or by phone, but now there are a growing range of networking tools available online. Networking platforms allow you to establish new contacts at the click of the proverbial mouse, but choosing the right one and using it in the correct way is important.

Social networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo are exactly what they say they are – great for organising parties or chatting to your mates if you are still in your teens, but not exactly the right venue for a serious professional. Better instead to opt for one of the specific business networking sites such as Ecademy or LinkedIn.

Both allow you to set up or join groups based on who you know already and recommendations from other members and are excellent for making new contacts or even tracking down old friends or work colleagues.

They are also great places for attracting the attentions of head-hunters if you have your own career progression in mind. Somewhere in the middle is Facebook. Originally designed for university students and alumni with an age profile concentrated in the early twenties, it’s now mushrooming to take in more seasoned campaigners.

The recent release of its source code has also opened the way for companies to create their own dynamic areas within the platform (consultants and accountants, Ernst & Young, have one with around 9,000 members, for example) so expect it to start moving into LinkedIn and Ecademy territory before too long.

And then there is Second Life.A number of high profile organisations have decided that this could also be the right environment for winning then ‘war for talent’. Accenture and GE, for example, have already taken part in job fairs in this virtual world.

While Second Life does have potential for recruiters, at present its environment is still undeniably clunky - in fact a bit like the early versions of ‘Doom’ but without the visceral violence.. Potential employers or business partners using it may also find themselves wishing for qualifications in psychology as they try to figure out why you thought it a good idea to turn up looking like Justin Timberlake, one of the Pirates of the Caribbean or a talking animal.

For now it still has a way to go, but worth watching closely nevertheless.

Satnam Brar is managing director of ERP recruitment specialists Maximus IT

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