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You can learn to network like a pro

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

You might prefer a sharp stick in the eye over an afternoon of networking, but in tough times, you can’t afford not to cultivate a robust network. The larger your circle, the better off you’ll be.

A few tips from the pros:

Think “What can I give to this?” instead of “What can I get out of this?” when building a relationship, says Anne Baber, co-founder of Contacts Count, a networking training company. Reciprocity is key.

Tip: When you come across an article of interest, e-mail it to someone on your contact list with a personalized note.

• Ask for specific advice or information, rather than job referrals. People are unlikely to vouch for someone they don’t know well; it’s risky for their reputation, Baber says.

• It’s never too late to start.
Begin with a list of all the people you know, even if you haven’t been in touch for years, suggests Liz Ryan of the Ask Liz Ryan online discussion forum. Then add former co-workers, college friends and parents of your children’s soccer teammates.

• Don’t assume everyone knows what you do. You need to be able to tell a crisp, interesting story about you, so people will think of you when a potential job hits their radar, Baber says.

• Expand your network by joining a professional association,
job-hunting club, alumni associations or health club. Take yourself outside your normal circle.

• Build up good will and uncover areas of mutual interest with the people you’ve just met. “Perhaps the worst thing you can do is stick out your hand and say, ‘Hello, I’m looking for a job,’ because people don’t know how to respond to it,” says Lynch.

• Use online tools like LinkedIn and Facebook to convey a persona, but don’t use them as a crutch. Face-to-face networking is still the way to seal a deal.

— Adapted from “You May Not Like It, but Learn to Network,” Phyllis Korkki, The New York Times

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