My oldest daughter, Kate, loves horses. There’s a horse park next to the soccer fields where she started playing when she was four. She watched the horses during the game, and would always ask me to take her to see them when her game was over.

Then as soon as we climbed out of the truck she would ask me to ask if they would give her a ride. I  always said, “No” and this went on for several weeks. Finally I said, “Kate, It’s your job to ask for a ride, but I have a better idea. You can’t ask directly…so let’s try two things – pay a compliment, and ask what the horse’s name is.  Tell the rider something you admire about their horse, it’s color, markings, the way the mane is braided, or the saddle, then ask about the horse’s name.”

Incredibly, half the time, the rider would invite Kate to sit on the horse or even offer a short ride in the parking lot.

This describes my approach to networking, or meeting new people in any environment. It works as well at forty as it does at four. First – be fearless – nothing bad will happen from paying compliments, and if you ask to connect with someone, either by exchanging business cards or through LinkedIn, the worst that can happen is they will say “no”…or ignore you. The best outcome is that you’ll find some common ground and a way to help each other solve a problem, achieve a goal, or launch a connection. The most valuable people give you access to information or relationships you have few other ways to reach. Great connections have little in common with you and almost no overlapping knowledge and experience. The co-worker who sits next to you at work and lives in your neighborhood can do little to expand your worldview compared to these people:

Connect with people who matter – people who are open to serendipity and the power of relationships. People who have established a personal brand and communicate their thought leadership or expertise in any area.

Connect with people who are geographically distant in your industry, or physically close in other industries.

Connect with people who are in completely different industries, and geographically removed, but have similar interests, educations, or other shared experiences that you can leverage to connect.

Connect with authors, speakers, and researchers – they are very open to new connections and easy to reach if you share a positive comment or thought about something they’ve produced or created.

Connect with billionaires and investors – they’re actually very accessible and frequently seeking new ideas.

Connect with LIONSLinkedIn Open Networkers. They self-identify as people who are open to new links.

Placement surveys show that 75% of all jobs that pay >$100,000 are found through a candidate’s network. That’s an incredible statistic…so how do you put your network to work? For existing connections send a brief email that describes your strengths, experience, and what you’re looking for. Never ask for a job directly, rather, request that your contacts alert you of anyone in their networks who could benefit from your skills and experience.

What about new connections?

Here’s a proven road-map to build local connections and secure their help to find a new opportunity in your hometown.

1. Find a list of the fastest growing or most profitable companies in your City or State – usually published by the local business journal.

2. Select 25~30 companies that your skills could be well-suited for.

3. Search LinkedIn for LIONS (LinkedIn Open Networkers) that are well-positioned on that list. The world is full of people who want to help you – all you need to do is ask. And the more senior the person the more likely they appreciate the power of chance meetings.

4. Send a personal note to the LIONS or other people you identified from companies on your list. Say this:

“Hi, I found your profile on LinkedIn while researching XYZ company. I’d like to connect with you and would be delighted if I could buy you a cup of coffee sometime in the next two weeks for a chance to learn more about what you do?”

This works – especially for sharp candidates who have been out of the workforce for an extended period. Initiative catapults you to the head of the line. Nearly half the people I have shared this technique with end up in a job that was designed for them. Experience has shown me that a personalized request, like the example above, will yield about a 40% acceptance rate for people with a complete LinkedIn profile. And the final meeting rates will exceed 25%. Furthermore, half of those meetings result in a new connection revealing information about unpublished openings in their companies – hidden jobs. It doesn’t take many cups of coffee to heat-up your search.

I’ll wrap up with two more tips: in business credibility matters and it’s customary to use a senior manager’s firstname, even if the CEO. Don’t use “Sir” or “Ma’am” when speaking with someone about their company or in your introduction – it signals weakness or insecurity and reduces your position. Finally, the next time you encounter a networking event, look like a pro – carry your business cards in your left pocket, so you can pull one out as you shake hands with people you meet. Place the cards you receive in your right pocket. This prevents cards from getting mixed-up, and you can maintain eye-contact while delivering your card. It’s a small step, but deliberate, meaningful improvement will add up over time and turn your into a confident networker.

Please “Like” this and pass it along if you found it helpful.

Paul’s talk – “Personal Branding and Digital Footprints” is a discussion about how people connect, learn, and grow. He introduces ideas and techniques you can apply to achieve your goals, enhance your career, and help other people along the way.

Paul Laherty leads Diio LLC’s efforts to improve airlines’ decision-support processes, and access to critical data. Over the past fifteen years he’s led teams in Sales, Marketing, and Finance at American Airlines, Advito, Travelocity, and Cornerstone Information Systems. Paul’s an instrument-rated pilot, writer, speaker, world-traveler, former Army Officer, a husband, and father.  He uses his life-experience, and an MBA and BS in Psychology from Indiana University to help people and organizations achieve significance, travel safely, and think differently. Paul publishes at paullaherty.com, and is open to connecting on LinkedIn at LinkedIn/paullaherty, or twitter @paul_laherty.

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