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 f