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How to network to further your marketing career

How to network to further your marketing career

By Alice Weightman, a director at Hanson Search

No, not the amount of qualifications you will need in the future to work in marcomms, but a lesson from across ‘the pond’ on the value of networking in developing your career, adding to your team or finding new business.

Invented by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s, ‘Six degrees’ shows that it’s possible to connect everyone in the world through a maximum of just six links (a version developed in the 1990s claims to link everyone to the Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon for some strange reason).

There’s no final proof that it’s infallible but if it does, then you are a lot closer to that key person you want to recruit, be recruited by or do business with than you might have first thought. To get moving along the chain towards them, you need to make best use of the network, which everyone is already a passive part of.

That means friends, family, current and past employers, alumni of old schools or universities, members of sports teams you play or have played for….the list is only constricted by your imagination.

Everyone on this list is connected to you in some way, no matter how tenuously, and they might know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who has exactly the right colleague, right job or right business opportunity for you, so start talking to them now.

Effective networking doesn’t mean boring everyone you meet with how wonderful you are, it’s a question of fitting in with their aims and interests and communicating quickly and cleanly exactly what you are about. Start by developing an ‘elevator pitch’. This is a Hollywood term which derives from the idea that you should be able to sell a concept for a film in the time it takes an elevator to travel a few floors.

In your terms it means a fifteen second summation of who you are, what you do and how it can help the person you are talking to. Elevator pitches should be jargon free and simple enough that your grandmother would understand them immediately. If they fail this crucial test, you are wasting your time – granny knows best!

Remember other people like to talk too rather than sit through your pre-prepared monologue with a glazed expression. Try to find some common ground quickly, show interest and, above all, listen. Finally, always try to agree some sort of follow up. If you think you have developed a rapport, then agree the next step – a call, an email, a meeting – then make sure you do it!

At one time all of this had to be done face to face or by phone, but now there are a growing range of networking tools available online. Networking platforms allow you to establish new contacts at the click of the proverbial mouse, but choosing the right one and using it in the correct way is important.

Social networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo are exactly what they say they are – great for organising parties or chatting to your mates if you are still in your teens, but not exactly the right venue for a serious professional. Better instead to opt for one of the specific business networking sites such as Ecademy or LinkedIn.

Both allow you to set up or join groups based on who you know already and recommendations from other members and are excellent for making new contacts or even tracking down old friends or work colleagues. They are also great places for attracting the attentions of head-hunters if you have your own career progression in mind. Somewhere in the middle is the increasingly popular Facebook.

Originally designed for university students and alumni with an age profile concentrated in the early twenties, it’s now mushrooming to take in more seasoned campaigners. The recent release of its source code has also opened the way for companies to create their own dynamic areas within the platform (consultants and accountants, Ernst & Young, have one with around 9,000 members, for example) so expect it to start moving into LinkedIn and Ecademy territory before too long.

And then there is Second Life. For those who have missed out on it so far, Second Life is a web-based virtual world where you can adopt your own character or ‘avatar’ and interact with an estimated 10 million fellow users.

Whilst this interaction now covers everything from philosophical discussion to somewhat less intellectual pursuits (it’s no coincidence that there are very few overweight, spotty or balding avatars), a number of high profile organisations have decided that this could also be the right environment for winning then ‘war for talent’.

Accenture and GE, for example, have recently taken part in job fairs in Second Life and the virtual graphics consultancy, Electric Sheep Company, was put together exclusively through the medium. While Second Life does have potential for recruiters, at present its environment is still undeniably clunky - in fact a bit like an old fashioned, first person computer game.

Potential employers or business partners using it may also find themselves wishing for qualifications in psychology as they try to figure out why you thought it a good idea to turn up looking like Brad Pitt, a super-hero or a talking wolf.

So, for now, perhaps great if you need or already are a graphics wiz or a game developer, but as a viable recruitment and business medium for serious PR or marketing? Our view is that it still has a long way to go.

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