If you're doing it right, networking isn't something that takes lots of extra time in your life.
It easily blends into your life, and your approach to life.
You may think of networking -- making new contacts and spreading the word about yourself or your company -- as slogging to trade shows or meet-and-greet cocktail parties to shake hands and exchange business cards.
But tending to your career doesn't require spending long days in hotel ballrooms or long nights in smoke-filled bars. If you see everyone as a potential contact, you can network during any mundane daily activity, from waiting in line for a latte to peddling at the gym to commuting.
Some conversations will be fleeting, while other times, the people you meet will become part of your circle. Being open to -- and staying in touch with -- those who cross your path is how you make your own luck. At some point, you'll learn about something that can benefit you professionally before the rest of the world finds out.
"People think of networking as going to a function," says Karen Susman, a Denver-based coach and speaker on networking. "You need to realize you are building your network everywhere all the time."
While working as an executive recruiter in Austin, Texas, Becky Gates joined a book club. A referral from someone in the club led her to a job as senior development director for the Girl Scouts Lone Star Council.
"I told her I was interested in working for a nonprofit because I liked what I was doing as a volunteer," says Ms. Gates, 55 years old. "She said she knew the CEO of the girl scouts' council. She introduced us, and I found out they needed someone."
Five months ago, Ms. Gates moved to Boise, Idaho, where she's vice president and general manager for Organizational Consultants to Management, a Salt Lake City-based career transitions firm. Ms. Gates and her husband relocated to Boise to be closer to family. She learned of the opening before the move through another networking contact.
Some traditional networking tactics do take time, but shouldn't take much. Busy executives who excel at career management say they set aside only a few extra minutes a day -- but at least a few minutes a day -- to touch base with professional contacts.
Tim Ayers, director of global services marketing for Tellabs, a communications company in Naperville, Ill., devotes about five minutes daily to call or email some of the approximately 900 people in his computerized database. They include colleagues, vendors and others he's worked with in the past.
He squeezes in the calls or emails first thing in the morning, which he says is best for talking to people overseas, or between meetings, or makes them from home in the evenings. "My schedule may have no more than a few open blocks and even then, people might be queued up waiting to talk with me," he says, "but I just make the time."
Mr. Ayers notes the benefits: When he lost his job in Chicago during the telecommunications meltdown in 2002, he found a new position through a networking contact. Talking with others regularly also helps him do his job better because it keeps him informed about trends and potential candidates for Tellabs openings, he says.
If you aren't making the time to network, ask yourself: Are you really so busy that you can't spare five minutes on something that's so beneficial?
Perhaps it's not just lack of time that's holding you back, but lack of confidence. It's unnerving to make calls when you doubt the person you're about to contact wants to hear from you. But when that nice email comes back, the anxiety melts away. Take some time and try it.
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