Guest post by Jen Bokoff
Last year, I read an article called Forget Networking. How to Be a Connector. Since then, I have developed and offered a class on just that. It’s been a popular class – surprisingly so – and I’ve learned a lot through teaching it. For instance:
People have a hard time realizing their existing network.
There’s genuine interest in developing stronger connections with people, but fear of going about it the ‘wrong’ way.
It’s a tough sell on why you’d want to go out of your way to connect two people with each other, because people want to unveil the hidden agenda.
I’ve also fine-tuned my definition of a Connector. I didn’t previously parse out what exactly makes me a Connector, nor did I think about why it is an asset that I can leverage in my career or otherwise. Here’s how I define it:
A Connector is a person who…
has lots of great people in their network
naturally introduces members of their network to one another
is socially fluent
is known and respected in their communities
…and who uses that power to bring individuals in their network together constructively and with overall success.
I’m proud to have connected people over ideas, shared interests, collaborative potential, accountability, research, and resources. I enjoy connecting good people, and am fortunate to have (or to create) many opportunities for doing so. It’s a science, an art, and an energizing delight. Most exciting to me is that connecting people unleashes unlimited potential. It’s amazing to see what partnerships, conversation, and social change are sparked through catalytic connection.
I challenge you as students to use the power of connecting to advance your personal career goals. Think of this as a deeper, more sincere form of networking. Here are five active steps you can take NOW:
1. Figure out who you know. It’s more than you think; your local coffee guy, friends’ parents, panelist from a recently attended event, twitter followers, and sorority sisters are all people in your network. Who else? Figure out who your contacts are, organize them, and make a goal to connect with 10 of them in the next month about anything. Your connection could be in person, online, or over the phone, but find a clear and sincere reason to connect.
2. Think about what’s needed. Do you, your passion project, or a close contact need something that would benefit from people-power? Cull your network and see who you might be able to introduce (politely! and without commitment!) to one another to get the job done.
3. Offer something to others. The best way to build strong connections is if you bring something to the table. Volunteer for a friend’s cause; tip the coffee guy; share a classmate's published journal article on your social media networks; provide professional services to a family member who could benefit. Do it sincerely and without expectation of something in return.
4. Get introduced by introducing yourself. How do you get in the door to a company that's not hiring or stay in the loop with an awesome panelist from an event you recently attended? Get introduced if you have a shared contact or introduce yourself. It's never wrong to make a cold call or email someone you don't know. Just make sure that you keep it short (no attachments or essays!), highlight a clear purpose for wanting to connect (ie career path, interest in what being a Marketer for a Fortune 500 company entails, alumni from Rutgers University in field of interest), and keep the tone warm (use conversational wording). I often ask if we can connect for a quick coffee or phone call so that I can hear more about their career path, because I found x y and z fascinating. Show that you've done your research and want to have a substantive conversation to learn about them or their company.
5. Learn the art of following up. Write a thank you note to a professor who made a difference to you. Post an article on a high school friend's Facebook timeline that they'll find interesting. Call a vendor you worked with on a student government project to see what other services they offer. In general, try to be that person who remembers other people in one way or another. It will help you in the future, and you'll feel good about it.
This blog post was repurposed from content originally appearing on jenbokoff.com.
Jen Bokoff is the director of GrantCraft, a project of the Foundation Center that harnesses the knowledge and experience of funders to provide quality resources, and teaches professional development classes at the Brooklyn Brainery. She has also worked for a private foundation, the IRS, and LIFT, an anti-poverty nonprofit. In her spare time, Jen is a blogger, storyteller, and clutch hitter on her nonprofit softball team.