Networking isn’t about the people you know well. There just aren’t enough people you know well. It’s about the people you kind of know. The colleague from another department three jobs ago. The intern you supervised in summer 2004. A former professor.
These people aren’t your friends. They’ve never met your parents and they probably don’t know your street address. They’re loose ties. But because it’s such a big category, there’s a lot of them. And if you keep track of your loose ties, your career will thank you.
Loose ties are the people you reach out to when you’re making a change. You send a note, you update your linkedin profile. You say, “Hey, I just moved to Zambia and I’m looking for agriculture work. Please think of me if you hear anything.” Note: usually they do not think of you, and if they do, they forget about you. But once in a while, they do not. Sometimes, three months later, they email you about a job vacancy or a consulting gig.
Or you apply for a job at their organization. You say, “Hey, I just applied to Save the Capacity Building Ebola fighters. Wish me luck!” Or even, “Hey, I just applied to Vision without Borders Corps. Would you put in a good word for me with HR?” Sometimes, they write back and say “Good luck!” But sometimes, they write back and say, give me your resume. I’ll walk it over to the manager myself. Sometimes they say, my department has been looking for a grantwriter. Apply for our vacancy too.
The key, of course, is not to lose touch with your loose ties. LinkedIn is the obvious tool. Some people like facebook or twitter. Some old-school types go with the excel spreadsheet. The trick is not to be a jerk. You need to look out for them, too.
Be a good citizen of your loose ties nation. If you see someone is job hunting, pay attention to what they’re looking for and let them know if you know of vacancies. If they get a new job, baby, or spouse, congratulate them. If you get contacted by a recruiter and aren’t interested, pass on someone else’s name.
And, finally, be awesome. Do your job well enough that people who kind of know you know you’re good at what you do. There’s no point tracking your loose ties if they all think you’re lazy and under-skilled.