Networking Secret #4: Build It Before You Need It

Networking Secret #4: Build It Before You Need It

I can't tell you how many times a friend has called me and said: "Keith, I just became unemployed. I need to start networking. Will you teach me how?"

My answer: "No. No. No. You need to start job hunting! You should have been building relationships for the past five or 10 years so now that you need a job, you could make 20 calls to people in your strong and thriving network and have five job offers waiting for you in a week."

If you don't want to experience the feeling of being unemployed and having nowhere to turn other than job sites like Monster, the best advice I can offer is: Build it before you need it. Think of the relationships you'll need tomorrow, and start building them today.

Start Small

My first year in business school, I started consulting with my friend Tad Smith, who is now president of the media division at the large magazine publishing company Reed Business Information. The idea wasn't to create a sustainable consulting company that we would run after school. Instead, we wanted to offer our knowledge and work ethic to small companies for cut-rate prices. In exchange, we'd learn about new industries, gain real-world skills and have a list of references and contacts when we graduated as well as make some ready cash.

Create Your Own Community

Right now, there are countless ways you can begin to create the kind of community that can help further your career:

  • Create a company-approved project that will force you to learn new skills and introduce you to new people within your company.
  • Take on leadership positions within the hobbies and outside organizations that interest you.
  • Join your local alumni club, and spend time with people who are doing the jobs you'd like to be doing.
  • Enroll in a class at a community college on a subject that relates to either the job you're doing now or one you see yourself doing in the future.

All of these suggestions will help you meet new people. And the laws of probability ensure that the more new people you know in the circles in which you want to work and play, the more great opportunities will come your way and the more help you'll get at critical junctures in your career.

Forget Desperate Networking

It's time you forget the images we all have in our heads of the desperate, out-of-work individuals scooping up every business card in sight while fervently mingling at business conventions and job-hunting events. The great myth of networking is that you start reaching out to others only when you need something -- like a job. In reality, people who have the largest circle of contacts, mentors and friends know that you must reach out to others long before you need anything at all.

Get more tips in Keith Ferrazzi's Never Eat Alone and by subscribing to Keith's free tip of the week.