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Dude, where’s my oyster? (Part II)

Prior to the current financial meltdown, many of us felt that the world was our oyster, in terms of career development strategy. Here, Walt Hawtin, looks at a very fertile area of career prospecting; former colleagues, bosses and business partners.
In part I, we looked at a number of entry-level strategies and tactics to improve career prospects, such as preparing the two-page snapshot CV and registering with quality career-related business site,s such as ExecutiveSurf and LinkedIn.

Now let’s move to a more complex series of strategies that will require quite a degree of thought and discipline.

Building Career-defining Relationships

This can be the most challenging of strategies to enhance yourcareer prospects. Most high-performers, ironically, are poor at communicating their achievements effectively.

Many of us hold on to the old-fashioned notion that if we are good enough, we will eventually be recognised and selected for greater responsibilities. Fifty years ago, this was probably the case, because everyone within each discrete industry knew of each other and were usually of very similar educational, cultural and social background. Communications were limited to a closed field of people and outsiders were kept out of the fold.

Everything has totally changed, and if we wish to develop our careers, we need to market ourselves effectively. The first audience for this marketing push, are colleagues with whom we have had strong working relationships.

Think back through your career, right to the beginning, of all of the people with whom you have worked in the past, and make a list of them:

– Former clients and customers

– Former bosses, colleagues and subordinates

– Former suppliers or external business partners who have access to the broader industry

– Respected head-hunters, from whom you have had calls or have engaged with in the past, or who are specialists in your industry

– Former classmates from university, business schools and professional associations.

Where are they now? Try to focus only on those people with whom you would welcome a future working relationship or you could rely on for a strong referral should the right opportunity arise.

Prioritise ten former colleagues, looking at their potential to help you develop your career. We are now going to create a relationship management campaign around these people:

– They know us and are aware of our strengths and weaknesses

– They know the industry challenges where we have performed at our best

– We have had a number of positive working relationships with them

– While we have developed our careers, it is likely that they also have developed their careers in parallel.

– Among this group of people there will exist career opportunities. But we will only unlock these opportunities by rediscovering our relationships with these people.

Collate each person’s contact information and make a tick-list of how you intend getting in contact:

– Email

– Telephone

– Regular post (cards, letters, etc.)

– Video calls

– Instant Messaging (IM)

– Face-to-face (drinks, coffee, lunch, dinner, etc.)

– SMS

Or better yet, a mix of these.

Make a contact calendar note for each of these people, with more regular contact, of six times a year, for people with whom you have stronger relationships, and through whom a stronger sense of support is likely to come for opportunities in their sphere of influence. Fewer contacts are required for people who are more distant, who are in very senior roles, or where more regular contact is just not credible.

When you communicate with one of your influential people, have something meaningful to discuss. Don’t just call to gossip or to provide a narrative of your own developments. Make the call purposeful and of some value to them, so they welcome your regular contacts instead of avoiding them.

How can you make yourself an attractive network to your influential people?

– By tapping into local business news and sharing relevant pieces of information

– By sharing key career developments, like a change of role or an increase in responsibilities

– By keeping them up to date on key people that you may have in common, while avoiding gossip or personal anecdotes

– By sending quality journal or press articles, in which they may have an interest. Hard copies via regular post are a valuable medium, but soft copies are fine

– By asking for advice on a professional or career matter, with which they may have some expertise

– By referring them to selective business or career opportunities that you hear of through your networks.

In theory, you should maintain a balanced relationship with each of the influential people in your professional sphere, but do not be surprised if an old colleague wants to develop the relationship in different directions, or if a close former colleague wishes to maintain a distance. This is all part of the experience of maintaining a larger number of professional networks.

Finally, it is inevitable that you will make a few faux-pas when trying new disciplines, that have, at core, the development of human relationships. You will be undertaking an endeavour that very few people, even the brightest and best among us, effectively manage.

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