The holiday season is ideal for reconnecting, making new contacts, and strengthening relationships (i.e., for marketing you!).
Networking is the best job-search method and generates more than 80% of new hires. Constantly nurturing your relationships and strategically developing new contacts puts you on the inside track to plum job leads, whether you are an active candidate or just want to keep up with the market.
All jobs are temporary. Your network is lifetime career insurance. Contacts provide referrals, recommendations, and invitations. Make time every day to Network Purposefully. The "right contacts" are relationships with those who make hiring decisions and those who are good connectors.
In just 12 days (before or after Christmas), you can start building your career nest egg.
On the first day... Define your networking strategy. Focus on people and activities related directly to helping you achieve your personal and professional goals. Compile a list of current contacts, and research targeted new contacts among thought leaders, authors, friends of friends, industry consultants, speakers, etc. Determine who needs to know you.
On the second day... Organize contacts into action groups. For example, you can categorize them as follows: Meet in person or via telephone, Send an individual email or a note via the post office, Share a link or article, Send a gift, Connect two contacts, Invite to a live event, Recommend a virtual event or group discussion, Submit a proposal for a presentation, etc. Develop your marketing plan.
On the third day... Select and prioritize groups and virtual communities to join. Identify a few groups or organizations on which to focus your efforts. Better to be an active participant or leader in a few groups and build strong relationships.
Get involved. Schedule virtual networking into your daily calendar. Join LinkedIn groups in your industry, or for your specialty or a new field you want to enter. Participate in discussions among trade-association members and within other affinity groups. Cultivate new connections.
On the fourth day... Create a networking card—a business card on steroids. Show your name, email, and preferred phone number. Put a descriptive, memorable headline on the front. Include a bulleted list of your core competencies on the back. Add a signature block to your personal email that includes your name, a headline, your phone number, and your email. Package yourself.
On the fifth day... Connect with contacts now. Schedule time daily to network purposefully—email a few contacts, make phone calls, post a comment to an online discussion, attend a local chapter meeting, etc. Repeat daily. Promote yourself.
On the sixth day... Launch your (new) network purposefully. If you are in transition or you're planning a change, identify prospective target employers. Define your requirements (geography, responsibilities, corporate culture, company size, market segment, competitive position, growth potential), and research companies that match your criteria.
Identify the appropriate hiring manager at each organization. Determine who in your network can connect you or how you are going to introduce yourself to that person. Implement your marketing strategy.
On the seventh day... Conduct due diligence. Find people—including current and former employees, and consultants—with inside knowledge of your target companies; read print and online publications; visit professional-association websites; check conference exhibitors and presenters.
Refine your value proposition for employers based on their needs. Use success-story examples to describe how you will add to profits, reduce costs, or improve the process. Distinguish yourself as a first choice, go-to, reliable expert. Join additional groups to make more-targeted contacts. Fine-tune your plan.
On the eighth day... Initiate inside contacts at each target company. Both you and those contacts should already be members of the same organizations or groups. If not, join the groups in which the people who need to know you are members.
Ask questions, and share relevant experiences and ideas. (Do not begin conversations by asking about job openings.) It takes time to develop trust. You will not get much benefit from mere transactions; your intent should be to focus on making new relationships.
By being connected, you will likely hear of potential opportunities before public announcements are made. You can also volunteer and be the preferred candidate when you identify a need before a new position is official. That is the hidden job market; you have penetrated it. Stay on the insiders' radar, and be present for the right time to suggest ideas and solutions. Target a new employer market.
On the ninth day... Maximize social networking to increase quality contacts. Social networks provide enormous opportunity to connect with insiders whom you've identified from their profile content. Ask a mutual contact to facilitate an introduction. Join the same group as a target contact; on LinkedIn you can send a message to a fellow group member without being linked. Search to find contacts, and send a compelling introduction explaining how they will benefit from meeting you.
Check SlideShare to find industry or specialty contacts. Connect with contacts on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. Join the same LinkedIn groups they are in. Ask for their recommendations—crowdsourcing is one technique for discovering new trends, ideas, and people whom you should know. Penetrate a new employer market.
On the 10th day... Spot trends and increase your knowledge online. Get background information from corporate websites, LinkedIn profiles, and Facebook fan pages. Search online (ZoomInfo, Google profiles, Spoke) for more names. Follow individuals and corporate accounts on Twitter. Monitor conversations. Send direct messages or engage in public dialogue. Update LinkedIn with personal news.
Ask questions within your groups, and answer questions to demonstrate knowledge. Move conversations offline to deepen relationships.
Identify a handful of bloggers you admire. Regularly read their posts and comment. There's a good chance the author will reply and start a private conversation. Offer to write a guest blog. Recommend the blog. Publish your own blog, and reply promptly to comments. Engage the "buyers."
On the 11th day... Increase your visibility. Now that you are getting the hang of how to network purposefully, complete your LinkedIn profile. Add keywords. Document recent accomplishments. Upload presentations, whitepapers, articles, favorite links, and travel plans. Adding content increases your digital footprint, making you more searchable.
Check your Twitter stream a few times daily. Monitor your favorite blogs and websites via RSS. Write a comment, post a question, answer an inquiry—all are searchable and increase your digital footprint, adding to your credibility, building your reputation, and providing a record of who you are, what you do, and how you think and show your potential value.
Document your accomplishments online. Your work is your resume. Offline activities published online also add to your digital footprint. Send out press releases announcing promotions or job changes. Present at a tradeshow. Lead or help organize an activity in your local community or professional group. You will also make new contacts plus get more PR for yourself. Present you, the product.
On the 12th day... Maintain social-networking accounts and credibility. Be consistent across all platforms. Although staying in touch and keeping your activities current is time-consuming, repeatedly starting to network from scratch every time you need or want a different position requires much more time and effort, and is far less effective.
Having solid relationships is the key to sourcing new challenges in the unadvertised or hidden job market. Foster relationships. Networking is critically important at a time when every job is temporary and you need to create your own career insurance. It is easier to maintain a relationship than to develop a new one: "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold." Stay in touch.
Note: Every "day" above may require more than 24 hours. Each is a major milestone toward establishing a network of enduring value.