When I was young I learned 2 things from my Dad who was very handy with tools.
- Use the right tool for the job. It makes things so much easier.
- If you don’t have the correct (or specific) tool, improvise.
I’d only get schooled by my Dad when he saw me using the wrong tool if he knew the right one was available and nearby. The job always came out better when you used a tool designed for the job. You don’t have to stress out if you don’t have all the tools but if you have the right tool why wouldn’t you use it?
So what kind of tools do you use when you are networking?
- Address books (Outlook, Gmail, ACT, etc.)
- The phone (Yes, I know many of us don’t like using it, but we just have to get over that).
- Social sites on the web (MySpace, Facebook, Multiply, LinkedIn, Spock, and too many countless others to mention).
If you are going to be effective at networking then you should realize quickly that it’s difficult to reach out and contact folks when you don’t have an up to date email or phone number for them. That stack of business cards you’re stashing off to the side or the ones you put in your address book are going to be out of date quickly. You will find tools on the network that are intended to help you like Plaxo or CardScan’s “at your service”. However, these tools can fall short because they put the burden of updating your contacts on the contacts themselves and this is for your convenience, not theirs. In other words, there’s no incentive in it for them to update their contact info for your benefit.
People on sites like LinkedIn or even Facebook and Multiply update their information without being asked. If you are linked to them, or “friended” then you get the latest on their personal or professional situations (depending on the site) and it will be easier to stay in touch.
So if we’re talking about professional networking, what’s the best tool for the job? How about a tool that is designed to allow users to:
- Update their professional experiences
- Search for contacts according to where they work or have worked
- Discuss industry trends for their line of work
- Search for job openings or post jobs targeted at industry specific professionals
While you can improvise with other tools and you should still consider them as part of your arsenal in your quest to create an effective professional network, the best and most widely adopted tool for professional networking is LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is geared specifically towards professional networking and currently has nearly 40 million users and is growing at about a user a second. While Facebook has 5 times that membership, it is not geared towards managing your professional network.
So if you want to create a deep well of professional contacts that you can use to find good talent or be found as good talent in someone else’s network, join LinkedIn.
For those of you who did not “dig that well” before you found yourself looking for water, I will post later on how you can quickly get your profile in shape and build up your network.