How to… build a fabulous contact file

There are many reasons why you should be building and regularly adding to
your contact file. The chief reasons are likely to be when searching for a new
job, furthering your career, or continuing professional development.

Knowing and being able to connect with the right people is invaluable for
background research into a new market sector, or for getting insight about a
particular job – all of which can help you make sound career choices as well as
fine tune your interview pitch.

Contacts in the right places can also tip you off in advance when suitable
openings arise – if you are an HR interim, for example, it is highly probable
your next job will come through a referral from someone you know.

Above all, it is the critical back-office function to networking – there is
no point in glad-handing it at every opportunity if you don’t have a system to
keep track and help you make use of the contacts you’ve made.

Where do I start?

Establish what your career and personal goals are now, as well as how they
may change in the future. Then make a list of everyone you know in both your
professional and social networks and identify those you think may be useful to
you in achieving these goals. These may include former colleagues, a trainer on
a course you attended, consultants, a favourite university lecturer, suppliers
to your organisation, family, friends, neighbours, and even the chairman of the
PTA at your children’s school.

Joining a professional body, setting aside time for voluntary work or
becoming involved with your organisation’s community-based projects are other
excellent ways of expanding your contact file.

It is best that you start work on expanding your contact list prior to
asking for advice or assistance, as it is more likely to be forthcoming if a
relationship or bond already exists. There’s nothing worse than having to call
someone out of the blue, asking for help, when you suddenly find yourself out
of work.

Be clear about who’s who, where they fit in and your expectations of them.
Be respectful and don’t speak to them if you’re going to have to do it in a
rush.

Remember, establishing contact is only the beginning of the relationship. To
maintain credibility, you need to regularly keep in touch with them. One way of
doing this is to devise a system that will spur you into action. Try dividing
your contacts into groups according to job functions or by sector. Undertake to
call everyone from the first group in week one and then repeat for each of the
other groups in successive weeks.

Tools you can trust

Decide on a mechanism for recording your contacts. If you belong to the
digital age, you will probably have dispensed with indexed books, card system,
or a Rolodex, in favour of a personal digital assistant (PDA), or you have
stored them on a PC or laptop Microsoft Outlook, ACT!, or another address book.

Allocate enough space to save full contact details. Don’t make the mistake
of obtaining only one set of contact details. Get hold of switchboard and
direct line numbers, mobile number, e-mail, fax and address – you may need to
contact them urgently one day.

When adding new contacts to your file, make a note of where you met them,
common areas of interest, personal details, their PA’s name, as well as a
keyword that denotes why they might be useful.

If you are storing your lists digitally, make sure you regularly back them
up on an external disk or other storage device.

As you’re likely to acquire a stack of business cards when networking, it is
a good idea to carry a business card scanner. These compact devices are fairly
sophisticated and can enter the data read on the cards into the correct fields;
the text can be edited, then uploaded into your address book or personal information
management system.

Don’t forget the payback

It is important to remember that you don’t get something for nothing. If
information only ever flows in one direction, your contacts will soon come to
regard you as wearisome and energy sapping and will probably go some length to
avoid you. Ideally, have something you can offer in return or ask if there is
anything you can help them with. Remember, always, to express your gratitude.

Where can I get more info?

Book

– Power Schmoozing, Terri Mandell, McGraw Hill, £9.99, ISBN 0070398879

Articles

How to… network, www.personneltoday.com/goto/17214

If you only do five things…

1          List
everyone in your networks and identify those who can help you achieve your goals

2          Start building
relationships before enlisting their help

3          Document all
relevant contact details as well as key information

4          Offer something
in return

5          Be sure to say
thank you

Expert’s view – Amanda Riddle on building a good contact file

Amanda Riddle is the UK chief executive of Grayling Public Relations. She is
responsible for all Grayling’s HR activity including recruitment and
appraisals, and is custodian of the firm’s Investors in People process. She has
been expanding her contact file for nearly 20 years.

How should you approach an old contact who you’ve lost touch with but who
could now prove useful?

I’m always reluctant to just pick up the phone and talk to someone I haven’t
spoken to for years – if I were them, I’d be immediately suspicious. Find a
reason to call – perhaps something about their company or industry has appeared
in the headlines – ‘I saw this and thought of you’ approach. It may still come
across as a little contrived but at least it’s an icebreaker.

How often do you make a point of adding to your contact list?

The key is to ensure you are not adding names for the sake of it – they have
to be worth keeping in contact with. Be prepared to spring clean your file. And
if, despite regular communication, the contact shows no interest, concentrate
your efforts on someone else.

What methods do you use to store contact details data?

The days of the PR’s bulging little black book are over as they are swiftly
being replaced by technological equivalents. To eliminate techno nightmares, we
keep all our contacts on PDAs linked to an office-based PC and backed up on a
storage drive. But, call me old fashioned, I also keep really important details
on the Rolodex – just in case.

What knowledge management system do you have in place to minimise loss
when someone leaves, taking their contact file?

Knowledge management is a hot topic in PR. The technological procedures
outlined above prevent us losing contacts when colleagues leave – and we
supplement these with a central database for new business and marketing
purposes which is also backed up on storage drive.

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