The Art of Green Networking

It is no secret that effective networking is one of the single most important aspects of successful job-hunting. I have spent the past five months building my network to both learn about the green realm and hunt down the perfect green job. I've always cringed at the word "networking," as the term connotes forced conversations and social climbing. But I'm realizing networking can become your own authentic process, and I actually enjoy it. The day I realized I was doing something right I received 4 compelling job descriptions, which landed in my inbox from all corners of my network, from organizations I was interested in and excited about.
While I would prefer not to write about my own personal results in specific terms, I want to share some of the "best practices" (I am indeed a consultant at heart) for finding a job and building valuable connections in your field. These tips and tricks apply to all fields as far as I'm concerned, though they're based on my experience in the world of green.

Click "2" to see Amie's list of tips...

1. Keep track: I keep a spreadsheet with contact info for everyone in my career network with details of when we met, who referred me to them, whether I've reached out to them, what they do etc etc. I also keep separate lists of companies and organizations of interest, with my contact at each if I have one, and resources to use during the job search. This might be overkill, but it has been incredibly reassuring and helpful to have.

2. Keep up on your industry: Particularly if you are entering a new field, read, read read. Sign up for all relevant email alerts and newsletters so that you don't miss a beat. You need to understand the dynamics of the field you are working in and this can help you figure out your place in it.

3. Develop expertise:
More than just basic knowledge, become an expert in your specific area of interest. Potential employers always want to see that you really care about something and will be able to become just such an expert on their issues. This is a big reason why I started blogging - to ensure I was on top of happenings and researching topics of interest.

4. Attend events: Get in the loop on all relevant networking opportunities and go! In the SF sustainability scene, for example, EcoTuesday, Climatini, and Green Drinks are three valuable functions.

5. Practice proactive introductions: Take the lead and introduce yourself in any networking situation. Often you have to suck it up and risk feeling awkward in order to connect with someone at a company you admire. When introducing yourself, always open with a compliment or other statement of genuine appreciation acknowledging you know of their work and/or company. People are much more likely to open up to this sort of welcoming introduction.

6. Understand that anyone can be a great connection, regardless of title: A lower level professional can be just as (if not more) valuable a contact than the CEO. While it feels good to leave an event having spoken with the most important person in the room, other people in that room may turn out to be much more useful contacts down the road, contacts who will have time to help you out and share their wisdom.

7. Make business cards even if you are unemployed:
It feels good to have something to hand out. And people will be more likely to remember you, not to mention reach out. I recommend VistaPrint for cheap (or free if you let them advertise) cards which you can design quickly online. Better yet, if you're in the enviro-scene, make your own cards. When I met Jefferson McCarley, founder of V Restaurant, the "greenest restaurant in the world" soon to open in San Francisco, he handed me a business card hand written on recycled card stock. I found this to be tremendously charming and authentic.

8. Follow-up! Develop and practice post event etiquette:
I write details of everyone I meet on their cards so I won't forget who they are, what we talked about, etc. Then I enter their basic info into my nerdy spreadsheet. I try to send emails to as many as I can saying that it was great to meet, and including a reminder of what we discussed, in case they forgot already, and suggesting a follow-up meeting or conversation where appropriate, say if you have common interests or there is potential for collaboration on a project. At the least remind them what you are interested in and request they keep you in mind. I think its also nice to send something helpful, such as a link to an article you brought up in conversation, a useful website you recommended, or the contact info of a friend who would be useful.

9. Give introductions and resources: In a networking situation, we all have something or many things to offer. Know what those assets are. If you've been networking for a while, like I have, chances are this capital can be in the form of valuable introductions. It's the golden rule. When I talk to someone I am hoping they will direct me to a job lead or informational resource. I try to do the same for them. Always be thinking, who or what do I know that aligns with this person's interests and aspirations that I could connect them with. And then be reliable about making email introductions. This is an easy favor that will come back to you. Resources, such as websites and blogs, can also be valuable to share. Make a list of your top favorite blogs or websites or job boards and share it. Or if you have another form of capital to share, do so.

10. Engage everyone you know: When looking for a job, I sent a mass email to a targeted group of friends and family stating what I was looking for and asking for ideas, referrals, company names, anything. This is how I found my current job. Better to email too many rather than too few people in this situation. You never know who will have leads. My sister, a teacher living on the east coast, provided me with connections that led directly to interviews with three different companies of interest in the Bay Area. Caution: Choose your favors wisely. If you blast your network with requests daily, this may not be as fruitful.

11. Ask for referrals and introductions: When meeting people for informational interviews or what have you, always ask for referrals to others who would be of help. Networking should be a never-ending game, where leads lead to more leads.

12. Express genuine interest - ask questions and do your research: When you are meeting with someone new, do research beforehand so you have an idea of what they do and can speak intelligently about their company. That said, ask genuinely interested and thoughtful questions, which can be helpful to prepare beforehand. People usually love to talk about their work and love when people are interested in hearing about it.

13. Invest in your resume, bio, and job desires: When being introduced to others, it is essential to have an updated resume on hand to share (clearly). More than that, a bio can be especially helpful when you are networking with people who do not have jobs to give you, but have friends who may have jobs to give you. It is a less formal way of sharing your background in advance of a meeting that does not signal "I want a job" but instead "I want you to know a little bit about me." It is also helpful to have an email prepared describing what you are looking for, with a list of job titles and industries you are looking at, as well as sample target companies.

14. Get specific: Career counselors have recommended many a time creating a list of your top target companies and sending this into your network to see if anyone knows anyone at any of them.

15. Keep in touch with your network: This is perhaps the hardest, but most important tip. Keep your network fresh. You don't need to spend all day emailing people individually, but keep your contacts in mind and share pertinent articles, websites, referrals and other information, as well as finding other creative ways to keep your relationships alive.

This cannot begin to be comprehensive. Are there other networking tips people have to share? If so, please leave a comment.

Amie Vaccaro is interested in green companies, entrepreneurs, and movements reducing environmental impact through sustainable innovation. You can read her blog, ecofrenzy, which is focused on green business happenings and other related ommentary.

Photo credit: Clipartof