How Well-Connected Are You?

SAN MATEO (03/06/2000) - Once upon a time, people knew their neighbors, professionals met their clients for lunch, and receptionists greeted callers by name. But today, thanks to technology, we may pass an entire career without meeting some of our co-workers, says Cherie Kerr, author of Networking Skills That Will Get You the Job You Want and founder of ExecuProv, a training company in Santa Ana, Calif. This isolation keeps us from making valuable connections.

"If you don't have networking skills, you're going nowhere. It's the contacts you make that decide your success." Here are five ways to avoid techno-seclusion.

1. Pick up the phone

Cold-call (don't e-mail) as many as six people every day to introduce yourself.

In a year you could know more than 1,000 new people. Get names from company rosters or from your parents' holiday card list. "It's all about rapport," Kerr says. "People are more likely to remember a person to whom they actually spoke."

2. Get out there

Sitting comfortably within your own circle hinders growth and impairs conversational skills. Learn about other industries and deliberately meet people with whom you wouldn't normally cross paths. "Word of mouth is powerful ... even if somebody doesn't want to do business with you, they might know somebody who does."

3. Nurture your contacts

Create a database of contact names and stay in touch -- keep people up to date on your latest projects. If you hear someone has been successful, send a congratulatory note. "Often when we meet someone, we don't keep track of them and end up losing their assistance as a result," Kerr says.

4. Develop communication skills

"Many people come across as literate and intelligent over e-mail but are disappointing when it comes to actual human contact," Kerr says. To make a good impression you must be personable and articulate. This takes practice. Walk down the hall to talk to somebody instead of sending e-mail. Force yourself to deliver presentations.

5. Do unto others ...

Return phone calls and grant professional favors when asked. Refer your contacts to potential clients or customers. "Take a half day a week to see what you can do for others," Kerr advises. This is a great way to build reputation and gratitude -- and people will be eager to help you in turn.

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