We live in a society and, as a member of that society, it’s likely that every change in your life is strongly influenced by other people in some way. The courses you take in school that shape your career are often at the instigation of a friend or counsellor. The books you read, the tapes you listen to and the seminars you attend are almost invariably the result of a suggestion from someone you respect. The occupation you select, the job you take and the key steps in your career are largely determined by the people you meet and talk to at those critical decision points in your life. In fact, at every crossroad in your life, there is usually someone standing there pointing you in one direction or another.
According to the law of probabilities, the greater number of people you know who can help you at any given time, the more likely it is that you will know the right person at the right time and place to give you the help you need to move ahead more rapidly in your life. The more people you know, the more doors of opportunity will be open to you and the more sound advice you will get in making the important decisions that shape your life.
The right fit
David McLelland of Harvard did a 25-year research study into the factors that contribute most to success. He found that, holding constant for age, education, occupation and opportunities, the single most important factor in career success is your ‘reference group’. Your reference group is made up of the people with whom you habitually associate and identify. These are the people you live with, work with and interact with outside of your work. You identify with these people and consider yourself one of them. They consider you one of them, as well.
It’s about trust
When you develop a positive reference group, you begin to become a member of the in-crowd at your level of business. The starting point in this process is to develop a deliberate and systematic approach to networking throughout your career.
People like to do business with people they know. They like to socialise and interact with people with whom they are familiar. And they like to recommend people they trust. The best networkers are never unemployed for very long.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they begin networking is scattering their time and energy indiscriminately, and spending their time with people who can be of no help at all. Even if they attend organisation meetings, they often end up associating with people who are neither particularly ambitious nor well-connected.
When you network, you must be perfectly selfish. You want to become all you can over the course of your career. Any success you could ever desire will require the active involvement and help of lots of other people. Your job is to focus your energies and attention on meeting the people who can help you.
When you network, your aim is to meet people who are going places in their lives. You want to meet people who are ahead of you in their careers and in their organisations. You want to meet people you can look up to with pride. You want to meet people who can be friends, guides and mentors. You want to think ahead and meet people who can help you move into your ideal future more readily. For this reason, you must sort people into categories: helpful vs non-helpful, ambitious vs non-ambitious, going somewhere vs going nowhere.
You begin your networking process at your place of work. Look around and identify the top people in your organisation. Make these people your role models and pattern yourself after them. One of the best ways to start networking is to go to someone you admire and ask for his or her advice. Don’t be a pest. Don’t tie up several hours of their time. Initially you should ask for only a few minutes and you should have two or three specific questions. When you talk to a successful person, ask questions like, “What do you think is the most important quality or attribute that has contributed to your success?” and, “What one piece of advice would you give to someone like me who wants to be as successful as you some day?”
There is a law of incremental commitment in networking. It says that people become committed to helping you,
or associating with you, little by little over time. In some cases the chemistry won’t be right and the person with whom you would like to network will really not be interested in networking with you. Don’t take this personally. People get into, or out of, networking for a thousand reasons. However, if there is good chemistry, if you like the person and the person likes you, be patient and bide your time. Let the networking relationship unfold without overeagerness on your part.
If you try to go too fast, you’ll scare people away. Instead of asking your superiors for more money, ask for more responsibility. Tell your boss that you are determined to be extremely valuable to the organisation and that you are willing to work extra hours in order to make a more important contribution.
There is nothing as impressive to a boss as an employee who continually volunteers for more responsibility. Many people have the unfortunate goal of doing as little as possible for as much money as possible. But not the winners. The winners realise that if all you do is what you’re being paid for today, you can never be paid any more in the future.
Reap what you sow
Whenever you do something nice or helpful for others, they feel a sense of obligation. They feel like they owe you one. They have a deep, subconscious need to pay you back until they no longer feel obligated to you. The more things you do for people without expectation of return, the more they feel obligated to help you when the time comes.
We have moved from the age of the go-getter to the age of the go-giver.
A go-giver is a person who practices the law of sowing and reaping. He or she is always looking for opportunities to sow, knowing that reaping is not the result of chance. You’ll find that successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, “What’s in it for me?”
The more of yourself you give away with no direct expectation of return, the more good things come back to you in the most unexpected ways. In fact, it seems that the help we get in life almost invariably comes from people whom we have not helped directly. Rather, it comes from others who have been influenced by people whom we have helped directly.
Whatever your job or occupation, there are trade and industry associations, business associations and service clubs that you can join. Excellent networkers are among the best-known and most respected people in the community. To reach that status, they followed a simple formula. They carefully identified the clubs and associations whose members they can help and support and who can help and support them in return. And then they joined and participated.
When you look at the various organisations you should join, select no more than two or three. Target the ones with the people who can be the most helpful to you. Volunteer for the committee that engages in the activities that are most important to the organisation, such as governmental affairs or fundraising. Then get fully involved in your chosen responsibilities.
You will find that the members of the key committees are usually key players in the business community as well. By joining the committee, you create an opportunity to interact with them in a completely voluntary and non-threatening way. You give them a chance to see what you can really do outside the work environment. And you contribute to the committee as a peer, not as an employee or subordinate.
Remember, in any committee, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. In any association, fully 80% of the members never volunteer for anything. All they do is attend the meetings and then go home. But this is not for you. You are determined to make your mark, and you do this by jumping wholeheartedly into voluntary activities that move the association ahead. And the key people will be watching and evaluating you. The more favourable attention you attract, the more people will be willing to help you when you need them.
Networking fulfills one of your deepest subconscious needs – getting to know people and being known by them. It broadens your perspective and opens doors of opportunity for you. It increases the number of people who know and respect you. And it can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of your life.