I’m stunned and amazed time after time by the calls, emails and notes I get from past co-workers asking for references–sometimes reaching back as far as 20 years ago for jobs ranging from blog marketing to traditional advertising. Recently someone who I’ve never worked with even asked me for a reference. Sadly so much time has passed I often barely remember who they were, let alone what it was like working with them.
I find the people I remember fall into one of two buckets: really talented people are in bucket 1 and bucket 2 is filled with the people who made themselves memorable by either pulling some amazingly stupid stunts or were just plain unmotivated and made the same mistakes over and over again. Otherwise everyone else falls into the middle bucket of co-workers who didn’t make an impact one way or another. Obviously bucket 1 is the bucket to be in as people in that bucket are the go-to bucket when I have a job opening or when I’m asked if I know of anybody for a particular job.
So don’t fall into the trap of starting to network when you lose your job. Today everyone needs to be networking and making connections on a daily basis. You are basically screwed if you start once you need a job.
This means putting in the time, helping others even if it isn’t your job, mentoring someone, checking in before you leave to see if there is someone who needs help, always anticipating what lies ahead and/or having ideas. In other words, don’t just do the job handed to you, but go above and beyond the call of duty–that will make you memorable. Be a doer. Be the happy person who solves problems, not the complainer. You can also make yourself memorable by being a great communicator and team player. And of course, treat every assignment as if it’s going in front of the CEO or the Board. Make sure to be thorough and cover all the bases.
Social media has given us all many ways to network and make connections. I’ve met many people this way. With so many channels to choose from, it’s easy to share your opinions and thoughts in your area of expertise.
Go to industry events even if you don’t feel like it. Work on your networking skills by forcing yourself to go. Challenge yourself to walk up to strangers and start conversations. All of us are not out-going, charismatic people who can instantly light up the room and get people talking and you don’t have to be. You just have to be open to putting yourself out there, be yourself and start talking.
Start a blog and write thoughtful pieces about your industry, current events and new innovations. Most employers today will do a search online before hiring you. Make sure they can find links to you that go beyond your LinkedIn page. One of my favorite recommendations is to create an About.me page so everything is housed in one link.
I’m not perfect at this, but I do try and answer every email, notification and phone call. Even if it’s just to say we just don’t have a need at the time. It’s not as time-consuming as you think and it is part of building your reputation. I met with someone who I may never do business with, but he continues to introduce me to other women in the same space and occasionally sends me a white paper or link to an article. When the time comes and I require the services of a company like his, he will be the first person I call.
If someone asks you for a reference, which happens a lot on LinkedIn, ask them to reciprocate so the references are there when you need them in the future.
Whatever you do, don’t wait till the need arises. You need to be laying the groundwork today for what the future holds.