6 ways to actually benefit from the people in your network

6 ways to actually benefit from the people in your network
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Networking is something everybody knows they should be doing, but many don't for fear of coming off as slimy and opportunistic. After all, Singaporeans are taught to be modest and many are too paiseh to ask for favours.

That also means that many people aren't really profiting much from their professional networks. You might have done 10 internships, but if you're too embarrassed to reach out to your mentors, they'll forget you exist. You might have been best buds with your entire team at your last job, but if you don't keep in touch, you become dead to them.

Here are six ways to profit from your network without alienating or offending people.

1. Be diligent about keeping in touch with people in your network

Once you leave a job/internship for good, the bonds that held you and your colleagues together-the shared challenges, the hatred for a common boss, etc-dissolve rapidly.

Don't let these ties die completely, otherwise it's hard to revive them when too much time has gone by. Make the effort to keep in touch with the people in your network. Send them a Whatsapp text to catch up from time to time, or ask them out for lunch or coffee.

2. Be genuinely interested in their lives

Nobody likes to be contacted by a former colleague only to get the feeling the person sees you as nothing more than a stepping stone to a better job. If your contacts don't like you as a person or think you're out to use them, they might refer you to HR, but don't expect them to go the extra mile to recommend you.

Whether you're dealing with someone you once worked closely enough with to know a bit about their personal lives, or someone you've met in a social or personal capacity, show a genuine interest in their lives.

Connecting based on personal interests-a shared hobby or an outing with a friend or colleague in common, makes it far more likely that this person will be willing to help you out on the professional front.

3. Show that you're an active, not a passive person

There's nothing more infuriating than someone who always tries to coast on "lobang" from his contacts, but is himself unwilling to lift a finger to better his career.

Don't be that guy. Be someone who directs his own life actively. Volunteer widely, dive into new projects, and offer to help others whenever you can. This will show the people in your life that you're worth helping, and that you're capable of doing a good job should they recommend you for a position.

4. Don't only ask for stuff, offer to help others, too

Don't think of your contacts as a goldmine from which you keep taking, taking and taking. Be someone who's always willing to help people or assist in connecting others. That way, you build a virtuous circle, and it's more likely that someone you once helped will be only too happy to return the favour.

Even if someone is in a more senior position than you, never underestimate your ability to help, whether in a personal or a professional capacity, especially if you have them on Facebook. People are always asking for advice or recommendations on social media, which gives you an easy way to shore up goodwill.

5. Show gratitude

Never ever feel that you are entitled to help. That's an attitude that will repel others and give them less reason to help you the next time you find yourself in need.

Show gratitude, and lots of it. And please, do more than send a text reading "thx" on Whatsapp. Send thank you cards or buy someone lunch if they've been of help to you or recommended you for a job.

6. Ask for honest feedback

Didn't make the cut in your last job interview, or got a bad appraisal at work? Don't shy away from the truth. Ask for honest feedback, whether from colleagues, bosses or random interviewers. You can learn things about yourself it'd otherwise have taken years to figure out.

What's more, asking for feedback sets you apart as someone who's got a thirst for learning and really wants to improve, even at the risk of discomfort. That can only be a good thing for your personal brand.

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