By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman
You never know when a chance encounter will yield exciting new career opportunities. Just ask Rafic Cheboub. The structural engineer, who’s been contracting since 2004, referred his son Omar to Joe Salvucci, after he met the chairman of PEAK Technical Staffing USA at a holiday party. When he was ready to change jobs, Omar contacted Salvucci and now he’s the staffing manager of PEAK’s Chicago office.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Studies show that managers like to hire someone they know or who comes recommended. In fact, internal sources such as employee referrals produce 59 percent of all new hires according to a recent survey by SilkRoad.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be an extrovert to reap the benefits of professional networking. Here are four simple, painless ways to weave networking activities into your daily routine, as shared by the Cheboubs.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by establishing lofty networking goals that are difficult to meet. Select the venues where you’re most comfortable and get the ball rolling by building a small circle of contacts. For instance, why not have lunch or coffee with the engineer in the next cubicle?
“All you have to do is talk to people,” said Rafic Cheboub, who makes a point of having lunch with several full-time engineers over the course of an assignment. “Get to know them and their company. If you approach networking with the goal of learning about other people, you can provide value to them and the benefit will come back to you over and over again.”
Conferences are the perfect networking venue for busy professionals because everyone’s there to meet people. Participate in engineering societies and community organizations that interest you – you never know who might be working with you on an interesting project.
Broaden Your Horizons
Sure you’d like to hobnob with principals from the area’s top engineering firms; however, a vendor, a fellow contractor, relatives or even your next-door neighbor, could be a valuable contact.
“Don’t exclude anyone, because you never know what may happen,” advised Omar Cheboub. “Anyone can point you in the right direction.”
Strike up a conversation with the person next to you in line, a conference speaker or simply chat with parents at school events and soccer games. Anyone you meet may be a source of valuable tips, information and contacts that can advance your career.
Focus on Giving
Most professionals won’t recommend a perfect stranger for a job. It helps to first build relationships and trust by sharing job leads and providing introductions and endorsements to the colleagues in your network.
While they aren’t obligated to return the favor, a few colleagues will reciprocate if you go out of your way to help them first. And according to Rafic Cheboub, networking doesn’t produce immediate gratification; focusing on the needs of others will pay dividends over time.
“I’m always sharing advice and leads with people I meet,” he said. “What goes around, comes around.”
Nurture Your Network
Don’t leave networking to chance. Try to spend a few minutes every day congratulating others on their accomplishments, making new contacts and rekindling old relationships. Send thank-you notes, for example, when you land a new contract engineering assignment or position.
Take full advantage of professional networking sites like LinkedIn. But remember: you need face time and frequent contact to build strong connections. The act of connecting with others to exchange information and leverage strengths is the best way to advance your career.
As Rafic Cheboub says, “It’s amazing what can happen when you show a genuine interest in other people and don’t just focus on yourself.”
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