The Art of Networking in 2010

Given these turbulent economic times (high unemployment, a shaky stock market, the Euro dropping...) people are looking everywhere for money-making opportunities. It’s reached a certain fervor: Average citizens have transformed into networking-vampires looking to suck job-info out of anyone they meet -- even if the encounter is at LeClerc or Roissy airport, or any other unprofessional setting.

Efficient and proper networking can be tough to navigate at the dawn of this new decade. So how to best job-hobnob? Follow our advice and you’ll learn how to find the gatekeepers standing between you and the secret opportunities. They’ll do much more for you than those people you killed time with while you waited in line.

Present yourself right

The initial step to building a network is classic, basic -- and so important: Make a good first impression. It’s pretty logical. If you want to build a web of people around you, you’ve got to attract them to you. If you’ve registered with a professional online social network, sticking a photo on your CV is the easiest way to get noticed. According to Nicholas Vieuxloup, head of PR for Paris-based site Viadeo, CVs posted on Viadeo with photos are looked at 5 to 10 times more frequently than those without pics. Also, he recommends filling out your profile, from your studies and competencies down to your centers of interest. The same goes if you’re headed to a networking soirée or a get-together where you know you might be able to make some interesting business contacts: “You make sure you’re dressed well, shaved, smiling. You present yourself, say why you’re there, and what you’re looking for. That’s how others learn about your savoir-vivre.”

Show what you can give, not just what you’ve got

Business connections work the same as friendships, marriages, or any other relationship -- everyone involved gets something from them. Otherwise they won’t last. Nicolas Thébault, founder of career advice agency Tebopro, warns that being a “collector of anonymous contacts” online won’t get you anywhere. You’ve got to show how you’ll bring value to the person you’re reaching out to. Moreover, remember that networking isn’t just about finding a job. In fact, it’s more effective when you aren’t looking for something from a potential contact. “Go toward him in the hope of exchanging information about a shared interest, much as a journalist would approach an expert,” says Thébault. “The most common networking error consists of being solely centered on yourself and your own interests.” The shared subject doesn’t even have to be about work -- if you both like running, ask him about his next race. Maybe he’s looking for a training partner. If all works out, you’ll end up building a real relationship with him, which will serve you down the line.

Get down to business

Whether you’re talking to an HR representative, writing to someone online, or hobnobbing at a networking party, “in 30 seconds or 5 lines you must be able to succeed in attracting a person’s attention,” says Thébaut. Have your pitch prepared in your head beforehand and, if your delivery succeeds, you’ll get a chance to have a fast back-and-forth dialogue. Then hopefully something more lasting develops. A valuable contact is one who gets to know you and will recommend you as a professional, says Vieuxloup. “It will activate your career on the long term.”

Manage your reputation

Again, networking isn’t only -- or even principally -- about looking for jobs. Vieuxloup suggests using online business networking sites (besides Viadeo, LinkedIn is another big one) as resources for finding investors, generating business, looking for products, and just generally building a name for yourself. The latter is super important in this Age of Information. “Your reputation is really fundamental,” says Vieuxloup. “You have to think about it and have a strategy -- know what you want to do, who you should get in contact with, and what you should say to them.” For instance, don’t approach someone with, “Pierre Bloch referred me to you,” if Pierre didn’t. He very well might know Pierre -- business communities tend to be tight (bankers eat lunch together, newspaper editors hang out together, etc.). Maybe he doesn’t have the best relationship with Pierre; or maybe he’ll check in with Pierre, who will be perturbed that you used his name. With one simple sentence you’ve hurt both an existing relationship and an opportunity. So be prudent!