Networking Now: What HR Consultants Need to Know

By Lin Grensing-Pophal Sep 28, 2012

Networking today has been augmented and affected by the Internet and social media. But consultants can’t overlook the power of face-to-face networking. Most are finding that a combination of the old and the new generates the best results.

The Old

The tried-and-true methods of interacting with others still yield value, which really shouldn’t be all that surprising—networking is about interacting with people, after all! Ginny Clarke is president and CEO of Talent Optimization Partners LLC in Chicago. Clarke has used a variety of traditional networking activities to promote herself and her business, including speaking engagements, facilitation, PR/media relations, authorship and organizational memberships. “I have found membership in professional associations, alumni organizations, and non-profit and corporate boards to be a great way to meet decision-makers,” she said. “The advantage can be that I establish more meaningful relationships over time where people can experience my subject matter expertise and leadership, allowing them to recommend me credibly.”

The New

Making in-person connections is ideal, said Patti Johnson, CEO of PeopleResults in Irving, Texas. “But when your business is national or global, you have to get creative,” she says. “Networking has gone multi-channel, and it can’t be all in person anymore.”

Many people, she said, are much more comfortable building virtual relationships today than in the past. And tools like Skype make that process virtually seamless. “You can accomplish a lot with Skype, phone calls and e-mail,” she said.

Clarke, like many HR consultants, has learned to augment her traditional networking efforts with online opportunities, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging.

She said she has increased her LinkedIn network “by a factor of nine,” which allows her to be visible to a large number of daily users. She adds about five new connections each day. “I have also leveraged Facebook using ‘fan’ pages and events. Twitter is a must-have that links my website, blogs, LinkedIn and Facebook,” she said.

Even for those not skilled in networking, social media tools can help to generate results, said Carlann Fergusson, owner of Propel Forward LLC in the Chicago area. “While in my corporate positions, I was not a great networker because I was always laser-focused on making a difference to the company I worked for,” she said. When she started her business, she had to “figure out how to get comfortable with networking.” She found an easy place to start was to use her existing contacts and tools like LinkedIn to catch up with people who knew her and her work. “They refer me to others, and this has been a great way to build business,” she said.

Best Practices

Elliot Lasson, Ph.D., defines networking as “a set of ongoing and incremental communication activities as a means to increase the likelihood of being in the right place at the right time.” That being the case, he said, social media is obviously a very important tool and channel for these activities to take place. Like others, though, he points to the continued need for face-to-face connections. Lasson is with Lasson Talent Solutions in Baltimore, Md. He recommends that HR consultants:

  • Develop a simple website that clearly describes what you do and that has testimonials from clients.
  • Have a solid and up-to-date LinkedIn profile.
  • Develop an “elevator speech” hitting on your areas of focus and expertise.
  • Have confidence to step outside your comfort zone.

Fergusson is committed to an “abundance approach” in her networking. “I know from my past leadership positions that, as talented as an internal team is, there is never enough bandwidth to do everything needed without leveraging outside talent. I truly believe there is more than enough work out there for all of us. This approach is allowing me to network with other consultants and professionals to share knowledge. It is also enabling me to partner to deliver some unique solutions.”

That abundance approach and an openness to whatever might come your way often leads to connections through unexpected means.

Regardless of how skilled you are at in-person or online networking, nothing will happen if you don’t practice one important best practice, said Patti DeNucci, the “intentional networker,” a writer, speaker, coach and consultant with DeNucci & Co. LLC in Austin, Texas: follow up!

“So few bother to keep the relationship momentum going, or simply don’t know how,” she said. Following up, but not with a sales pitch, can make you stand out from the crowd. “Follow up with gratitude or in a way that provides value,” she advised. “Give them a reason to want to stay connected to you and do business with you.”

Unexpected Networking Success

Sometimes things happen when you least expect them to. Larry Gard, Ph.D., is president of Hamilton-Chase Consulting in Chicago. He said, “My most successful networking occurs indirectly, often when I least expect it and when I’m not purposefully trying.” On many occasions, he said, he’s been involved with projects unrelated to work only to have the project lead to inquiries about his profession. “I recently helped interview speakers for a panel discussion. As I concluded a meeting with a potential panelist, he asked me about my work and within two weeks I was sitting down with his VP of HR to discuss a talent selection and executive coaching project.”

Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues.

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