Making Introductions Can Pay Off

If you do it right, becoming a master of the introduction can make you the hub of the circles you move in.

by Jon Jacobs
Dice News Staff
| August 2007


When
people think about networking, they usually put it in the context of
meeting other people. But when you’re out there developing a group of
contacts who can help you with advice, job tips and raw information
about potential employers, it’s important to remember these same people
are looking for you to help them. How do you do
that? One way is to link them up with other people you know. "That is a
very critical piece of the networking process, of giving back to the
people in your network," says New York career counselor Phyllis Rosen.
"In order to keep a network alive, you have to be able to return that
favor."

Every introduction you make adds value to your network.
"When you connect two people who click and maybe do business, you
become more valuable to them," explains Chicago-based business
networking expert Lillian Bjorseth. "They remember you."

In fact, if you do it right, becoming a master of the introduction can
make you the well-connected hub of the circles you move in.

"A hub is a super-networked individual," says Adam Kovitz, chief
executive and editor-in-chief of the National Networker, a Web-based
newsletter and portal for networking activity. "When you become the
hub, you’re the person who everybody goes to."

Don’t Go Overboard

However, there’s an important caveat: A person who introduces
acquaintances indiscriminately will actually damage his or her network.
People who regularly return your calls expect you to exercise
reasonable care before disclosing their names or contact information,
referring a third party to them or vice versa.

"People will be hesitant to be in your network if they think you’re
going to give out their name helter-skelter," warns Bjorseth. "It’s
good to connect people. Just be sure you know what you’re doing."

Here are some expert tips for safe networking:

Don’t Give Referrals to People You Barely Know

Until you’ve invested time getting to know a new contact, you have no
basis to connect them with anyone who trusts you. In that case, a
referral within your network is a shot in the dark. If the new
acquaintance proves unsuitable – or worse, shady – the person you
referred them to will blame you. Says Bjorseth: "When I connect two
people, they’re more likely to connect, because I know both of them."

Don’t Solicit Referrals from People Who Don’t Really Know You

Job candidates sometimes ask for introductions from people they just met at networking events, or whose profiles they found on LinkedIn
or similar networking Web sites. Experts say those referrals are
pointless, because a new acquaintance knows nothing about your ability,
even if you send them your resume.

Gregg Berman,
head of risk business at RiskMetrics Group, says the best way to get
introduced to a decision-maker is through a former colleague. Such
individuals can honestly vouch for your competence. Even a highly
placed personal friend can’t do that, Berman notes. As much as they
might like you, your friends know that if they got you a position and
you failed, their own credibility would suffer.

Meet New Contacts Face to Face

"I’m very much a believer that you need to see the whites of their eyes
at least once in order to start building a relationship," says
Bjorseth. E-mail is fine for maintaining contact beyond the initial
phase, she says, but many critical behavioral qualities – such as a
person’s promptness and body language – can only be observed when you
meet in-person.

Listen

Asking the right questions, and hearing the answers that come back, is
often the key to knowing whether and with whom to follow up. For
example, Bjorseth says a person entering a new career or specialty
could ask a contact, "If you were in my shoes, who would you work for?"
After the relationship has deepened a bit, you could ask, "Do you know
somebody who works there?"

Be Flexible, But Loyal

Above all, never lose sight of the fact your network is your most
valuable career asset, and requires time and effort to nurture. A
network resembles a mutual fund, says Kovitz. "They’re dynamic, always
changing, adding and subtracting from their portfolio."

However, Bjorseth believes most of a network’s value stems from its
sturdiest, least fluid members: a tight circle of no more than a dozen
time-tested allies whom she labels "oak trees." Because such
relationships develop gradually and over time, their number is
necessarily limited. So take care not to overcrowd this part of your
network, or violate the trust of anyone in it, to attain some
short-term benefit.

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