I belong to a few staffing professional organizations. These groups share best practices and staffing philosophies from industry leaders. They also create a platform for recruiters to network. And frankly, I've noticed some bad networking. I'll talk about my experiences with these networking recruiters because I've seen it first-hand. But I can't believe this is specific to the staffing space. I'm sure bad networking happens all over the place. What I am talking about here is networking inside your industry/function (for me that's recruiting pro-to-recruiting pro). My comments here don't apply to people who are considering making a job move and are reaching out to me as a recruiter. Those folks should feel totally free and comfortable to shoot me an e-mail, especially if it includes a bio, resume or something similar. Anyway, as far as in-industry networking, here's what I've noticed:

The contact collectors

I've talked about these people before in posts about social networking. They use their so-called "network" to establish their credibility in the industry and people actually congratulate them for it. These are the people that try to connect with you via some networking tool, but there's never any exchange of info. You are a number to them ("Let's all congratulate so-and-so on their one-thousandth person in their network"). I don't connect with these people. Really, how valuable can their "network" of 1500 people be, given that they asked me to join and I don't know them? One thing I have noticed about the people that do this is that they try to establish their industry cred in other ways too (creating cool sounding titles that don't exist, working feverishly to book speaking engagements). There's a credibility issue there, in my opinion. I'm not saying that these people don't know how to recruit...just that I think they are going about establishing their industry expertise in the wrong way. I'll just leave it at that.

The "do-my-job-for-me" networking contact

I get these all the time. In fact, just got one today. I get an e-mail from someone I don't know asking for help with a position they are trying to fill (not a recruiter position....one of their open requisitions). Without much lead-in, they dump the job descriptions on you and let you know that "any help would be greatly appreciated". Why would I want to help this person that 1) I don't know and 2) thought this was an OK way to network? Sheesh!

The "I'm not sure what I want from you, but I sure do want to know ya" contact

These are the folks that know that they should be in contact with you but they don't know why. The mails are awkward and sometimes overly complimentary. They want to keep in touch with you but they don't know how. They are probably more selective than the contact collectors, but they don't know what they are driving for.

The "I'm afraid of Google" contact

This one absolutely drives me nuts and I know one of you is going to be funny and send me a mail just like this. This is the person that knows something about you; something that they are interested in. And instead of doing some research on their own, they ask you to explain it to them. For example, shortly after I presented at the ERE conference last October, a woman left me a voicemail asking me to explain the blogging methodology to her. From what I could understand from the voicemail, she thought that "blog" was some sort of tool that she could buy to source candidates. A simple "what is blogging" search would have saved her some embarrassment (either after her first or second voicemail to me). I can't tell you how many times I've gotten something similar. It's a little discouraging and I've gotten to the point where I've recommended people do a quick internet search to find the answer and then let me know if they have any further questions.

So anyhoo, here's my philosophy on networking and then I'll gives some tips for effective networking just from my own observation...you all may have more to add and feel free.  

Effective networking is a relationship. A network of any value is a connected group of trusted individuals. That trust comes from knowing them. In the internet age, you can find just about anyone online. So unless your own network is trusted, there's little value. The way I think about these relationships is like this:

(what's in it for me + what's in it for you) X (trust through knowing you) = relationship

No, I am not talking about dating but it works there too...I'm no expert, though ; ) Anyway, the what's in it for me/you piece gets established straight away. This is how you share. You obviously want to get something out of the relationship, but you need to offer something too. That gives you a platform to build from. It makes you a "contact". The exchange of valuable information between the 2 people is what makes it a "relationship". That is a building process.

So here are some of my tips on reaching out to people you want to network with:

-Have a point. Even if you are just contacting the person to ask a question. I get mails all the time from folks who want to "synch up". My question: "about what?" Points are good. Everyone should have one. I certainly don't mind answering questions from anyone if I have the info (in fact, keep the blog questions coming).

-Know what's in it for them, but don't force it on them. If someone contacts me because they want information on how I do something, they should be able to articulate what I can learn from them as well. Frame it as sharing: "I'd love to get your thoughts on XYZ. We are doing some exciting things with regard to ABC if you are at all interested in hearing about that". I do a lot of this kind of sharing with people and I find it really valuable. It justifies the time investment.

-If your first contact isn't quid pro quo, be a giver...you can be a taker later. I get mails from people saying "Hey Heather...you are fabulous...and by the way, I thought you would be interested in this article". I love that! The ones who I've never heard of before that want me to help them fill their open position...well, those mails get deleted (and I make a mental note).

Like I said, none of this really applies to the blogging I do here or my interaction with candidates...you don't need to explain what's in it for me. This is different. And the fact that you even show up here and read my stuff is enough for me.