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Second in a Series

Professional networking – developing and maintaining a robust group of colleagues, other professionals and vendors – has become a vital part of every executive’s tool kit. As healthcare reform unfolds and when Congress finally gets around to admitting what some already know – that there will be material ongoing reductions in Medicare reimbursement – the importance of good networking will be indispensable.

Bad networking can be as bad has no networking.

Here are some things to consider:

  1. Safe Zone Networking typically will not produce the results you need. Networking with friends or local colleagues generally will not afford you the range of opportunities that you will need in the new healthcare market. You have to get out of your geographic safe zone and get to know a broad range of peers, vendors and others who can expand your professional reach. Safe Zone Networking is for people who are more comfortable with reasons rather than results.
  2. Attending annual professional meetings is not a networking success waiting to happen. You have to work the room. I am not, however, a big fan of the circulating cold call approach, introducing yourself to anyone who will make eyecontact or seeing how many business cards you can hand out. That is a waste of time and an irritation to those people who most likely will never be productive networking contacts. Bad networking is focusing on quantity rather than quality, a major frustration to those of us who are Targeted Networkers on LINKEDIN as opposed to the LION – the so-called open networkers who brag of having more than 5,000 or 10,000 members. Being a member of an “open” networker’s group is not a smart brand move and is more of a waste of your time than anything else. Bigger is not better. Bigger does not produce greater value.
  3. Never, never offer a resume to a potential networking contact unless it is requested. In healthcare, some senior CEOs stay away from events because they tire of the constant onslaught of eager early careerists or anxious mid-level professionals who actually believe that offering their resume to the CEO of a health system or hospital will help their cause. It generally will not, and based on interviews with senior executives, it is more of an annoyance than anything else. To be effective in connecting with an organization, you should have a network that can make introductions for you, to help you connect the dots. (More on this in the next installment on Tuesday.)
  4. Networking without a plan is one of the biggest wastes of time there is, right up there with believing that submitting resumes on line will produce the next job. Anything can happen, including a lightning strike at a cocktail reception, but do not count on it. If you are relying on computer job boards to find a job, it means that you do not have a robust national network. To build that network, you need a plan. Even in the healthcare delivery segment, which is a smallish part of an industry spread over a broad geography, smart networkers target the people they seek to connect with based on career goals, strategies or even geographic preferences. Bad networkers stay on the sideline or waste time with contacts who cannot or will not help them. Networking is so important for new businesses – as this guide points out, building meaningful relationships with people who can offer you the right type of guidance for your business is crucial to it growing and you achieving your goals.
  5. Bad performance, bad timing and overwhelming frequency are additional characteristics of bad networking. The key to building a robust and productive network is your record of performance. No one wants to network with someone who does not have a good reputation for performance. Executives who cannot hold a job should think about a change in careers, not a larger network. The networking sin of bad timing refers to how and when you use your network. Networking should be about value contribution, information shared or introductions made, not a plea for help in finding a job. Just as you should link network development to career objectives, the frequency of communications with your network should also be based on a set of objectives and strategies – when you share information, what are you trying to achieve? Covering up your contacts with information that is not relevant is certainly bad networking. Sharing web information or forwarded emails that is not accurate is unacceptable. What information you share, and how you share it, directly affects your career brand. You want to be seen as someone who brings value to the relationship and that requires thoughtful networking.

2011 John Gregory Self