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Nontraditional Networking

In previous articles, we've discussed the importance of joining professional associations and organizations to network. While those memberships are important, less formal networking efforts are equally important and sometimes more effective.

For example, networking occurs in the elevator on the way to work, outside the church after a service and at the park with your children. It even happens while chatting over fence lines, walking the dog or sitting in the bleachers at school sporting events.

Following are some tips for making the most of nontraditional networking:

  • Create New Relationships

    While you don't want to give a sales presentation to the basketball team mother during half time, or place your resume‚ on the windshields of cars in the church parking lot, you do want to maximize all networking opportunities.

    Form new relationships by striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you at a church event or offering to keep score at a school baseball game. As these relationships develop, ask questions and listen for ways in which you might help each other. Weave facts about yourself into the conversation so others know the industry in which you work and the skills you possess.

  • Expand Your Inner Circle

    Sometimes you don't have to go very far to expand your network. You can network at work. Too many times we spend each workday with the same people, cocooned in our own department, rarely making strides to interact with other areas of the company.

    One way to expand your work "inner circle" is to invite new people to lunch or after-work events. For instance, if your department is celebrating someone's birthday or a promotion, invite one or two people out of the normal circle of co-workers to attend. Use this time to get to know how other departments work, and communicate your abilities and aspirations to your new friends.

    Another way to expand your network of colleagues is to attend all company events, even those that don't directly relate to your current position. Attending work-sponsored events accomplishes two things.

    First, it provides access to upper level managers and executives you normally wouldn't see. Second, it creates an opportunity to learn about the latest projects, new hires, terminations or reorganizations sooner than if you were isolated in your own department.

  • Give as Good as You Get

    As with all relationships, networking is not only about what you get, but also about what you give. The two most important things you can offer are time and money.

    Volunteering your time or pledging financial support to any group, not only an industry-related one, can benefit your career. Countless organizations and charities operating on shoestring budgets would love to be the recipient of your generosity, and something might be in it for you as well.

    If someone solicits you to donate money for a local fundraiser, inquire if the names of donors will be printed in a newsletter or bulletin, or on a Web site. In this way, your charitable act can also serve as advertising for you, and might be tax deductible.

    Or, if asked to support a local sports team or school, find out if your name will be printed on jerseys or programs or posted at concession stands.

    There is nothing wrong with being recognized for charitable acts. Giving wisely and making charitable donations of time and money work to your advantage.

When it comes to networking, think outside the box. Branch out from traditional associations and look for prospects in everyday life. Chances are you won't need to alter your daily routine much to find new opportunities.

Look for allies and partners in nontraditional venues. Be willing to give time and money before receiving a return on that investment. By being open and approachable and making it clear that you are willing to help others, they will be inclined to help you as well.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.
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