Career Resources

Networking Is Tough: Not Working Is Tougher

Effective networking requires three simple tools: a business card, a pen, and the right attitude.

J. Larry Tyler, FACHE, FAAHC

Networking. It's kind of like motherhood and apple pie. Everyone agrees it's a good thing. The problem is no one agrees what it is and what separates effective networkers from the rest. To me, networking can be described in four different ways:

  • Keeping in touch: contacting people periodically by phone or mail to let them know your status.
  • Soliciting information: asking for specific information about job openings or opportunities.
  • Exchanging information: sharing information, often about competitors or marketing leads.
  • Asking for action: requesting someone to pass on a resume or make a call on your behalf.

In a networking contact, any combination of the above can be present. In each case, the contact is preceded by an introduction that comes about by circumstance or planning. When this occurs, it is important to be prepared.

Preparing To Network

One of the more interesting facets of networking is the randomness with which opportunities materialize. Because networking can be haphazard, many people are not prepared. This is unfortunate since a chance encounter is often the prelude to a great opportunity and because preparation is so easy. All it requires is business cards, a pen, and the right attitude.

At the job search seminars I conduct for the ACHE, I often ask for a show of hands of all those who brought their business cards. Usually about two-thirds of the participants raise their hands. At the coffee breaks, participants with cards often exchange them. Unfortunately, those who forgot their cards are left out of the information exchange.

Networking in a business setting is great, but networking can also take place in casual settings-at the grocery store, the service station, or even on vacation. Since you never know when a chance encounter will result in a lead or an opportunity, you should be prepared.

Recently, I attended a conference in Bermuda. On a free afternoon, my wife and I decided to visit Hamilton. While we were waiting at the bus stop, a gentleman drove up in his car and offered us a ride. Although hesitant at first, we accepted and, on the way to Hamilton, struck up a friendly conversation. We soon learned that the driver was a local character named Peter Bromley, a bottle collector whose recently donated collection was on display in the dockyards. As it turns out, Bromley had a daughter married to a physician who practices at Crawford Long Hospital of Emory University in Atlanta, my hometown. At the end of the trip as we said good-bye, Bromley and I exchanged business cards. I pulled out my pen, jotted some notes down, and wrote him when I got back home.

What the results of this chance encounter will be, I don't know. Maybe one day I will be asked to conduct a search for the Minister of Health in Bermuda. Maybe I just made an acquaintance who will stop by to say hello when he is in the states. Or maybe nothing will come of it but a free ride into Hamilton with a kind man. Regardless of the outcome, Peter Bromley is now a part of my network.

Networking With People We Know

Networking takes several forms. Almost all of us can network with people we know. It is easy to call up an old friend and ask for information and job leads. Most of the time we will be received enthusiastically and information will be exchanged rapidly. With people we know, we are comfortable and relaxed. The trouble is that we soon run out of people we know.

Networking With Strangers

Networking with strangers is another matter. Many people fear calling or meeting with people they do not know. Often, this is an irrational fear. Candidates often tell me that they are surprised at how much help strangers have been to them in their job search and how disappointed they were that some of their friends did nothing out of the ordinary to help them.

Being referred to a stranger by someone we know is a preferred course since we get an introduction. It makes the discussions easier and we feel better about the process. Eventually, however, we will have to introduce ourselves to strangers without any prior contact. Don't fear these contacts: most people will be of help if they can be and will be polite if they cannot. Accept the fact that eventually you are going to have to network with strangers. Use the third tool-attitude-to help you along. Remember, networking is tough, but not working is tougher.

Maintaining Your Network

Maintaining your network contacts is an important task and even natural networkers need a planned network maintenance program. In networking, follow-up is extremely important. When someone asks you to call them on a certain day, call them. If you are asked to call at 7:30 a.m., do it. Many hires are made because candidates kept in touch when and how they were asked to.

Networking requires organization and the computer is a wonderful tool for organizing. Programs are available that act as a database, personal manager, and word processor. In addition to its organizing capabilities, computers have brought us a new age of networking through the Internet. Many of my friends are now letting me know how they are doing through our Internet address at Tyler & Company. There are several great things about E-mail. It's quick and provides a sense of urgency. It also allows you to mail the same letter to hundreds of people at the same time. Online forums and chat lines create another kind of network ready for exploring.

Another way to maintain your network is to send holiday cards to your contacts. Often, I see letters accompanying the cards detailing job moves and family events over the past year. I like this because it allows me to relate to the networker. A step beyond this is the personal phone call once or twice a year to catch up on life events. Because of the time involved, this type of maintenance should only be used for the very best and most influential network members.

I believe that E-mail is the networking tool of the next century and I urge you to start asking your contacts for their E-mail addresses for your database. However, nothing can replace the value of a face-to-face meeting. And for this, you will always need those three essential tools: the card, the pen, and the right attitude. It's this last tool that in the long haul separates the effective networkers from the rest.

J. Larry Tyler, FACHE, FAAHC, is president of Tyler & Company, an executive search firm in Atlanta. He is the author of Tyler's Guide: The Healthcare Executive's Job Search, Third Edition, published by Health Administration Press. To order, contact the HAP/ACHE Order Fulfillment Center at (301) 362-6905.

This article is reprinted from Healthcare Executive.